Winter Light is a Painter’s Light

Though the daylight hours are limited, it is the winter light that is most promising to my painter’s aesthetic. It is that moody warmth and abundance of soft edges that grasp my brushes into its clutches.

From morning to the end of the afternoon, there are days that only seem to have a glow through the fog.

This was my yesterday. I did work in the studio but by 3:30 not even the studio lamp helped much. It is on my to-do list to make arrangements for a track lighting bar to be installed. Soon I tell myself. Soon. In the meantime, I was painting a night scene from a late ferry ride on our much loved Mayne Queen on Monday. The Mayne Queen will be retired from service on November 20, 2022. There is a farewell gathering at the terminal but I am not sure I will go. In fact, I am pretty sure I won’t. Public goodbyes are really close to being beyond my capacity at the best of times. So instead, I put all my memories into one quick painting sketch from our last ride starting with a few swift brush marks to find my way into the composition.

And here is “Last Ride on the Mayne Queen” by Terrill Welch, 11 x 14 inch acrylic on gessobord.

Artist notes: We got our own private goodbye with the Mayne Queen this evening. There was no cake but the Big Dipper was present and the steady rumble of that diesel engine gently lulling us across the calm water. I will miss this old gal and the views she offered up with humble assurance. Good night she whispers softly just ahead of the crackling of the announcement – This is Village Bay Mayne Island, Village Bay… and the deck lights come on. Safely home on this sturdy old ferry boat for the final ride. Thank you for your many years of service Mayne Queen as your November 20th 2022 retirement day draws near. ❤️🥂🍾

This reminds me to tell you about a stormy winter day when the wind was whistling a wild tune. All the big ferries were holding and waiting out the weather. We didn’t think we were going to make it home. But after a slight delay, we were loaded on the Mayne Queen. The deck hands told us to put on our parking breaks and go upstairs and sit down. After a few minutes the captain came on the loud speaker and repeated the same message. Make sure the parking break is on. Stay up stairs and do not walk around unless it is necessary. To say the least, that was some ride!

But getting back to painting, in order to sympathetically render such winter day or night light, one must be a colourist. This is because all of the greys and darks are leaning towards some other colour and it is not the same colour they are leaning towards everywhere. Once a painter starts to understand this, and paints with this in mind, then the paintings seem to come alive on their own within the directional brushstrokes. Yes, painting takes practice but also study, knowledge, applied understanding and then finally forgetting so that the painter can work intuitively from a solid foundation. Rendering a subject in paint is not particularly challenging. A painter can be like a copy printer from life or some photographic image. Yes, you still have to understand colour and composition to make a decent replica but it is usually not particularly difficult and requires limited investment of the painter’s vulnerable self. However, to render a subject with vitality and inner feeling racing across the surface in a way that engages a viewer who has no experience with the subject, that there is magic! There is a barely controlled expressive rawness to such work. Even quiet peaceful paintings can have this. It is the secret something that allows a work to stand strongly on its own once it comes off of the easel and is removed from its creative context. The moodiness of soft winter light gives a painter an advantage in being able to access this special magic. At least, this is how I experience winter light.


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BC Ferries share the Salish Sea sometimes to its own peril

Yesterday’s post introduces the first blog clip about a series I am compelled to paint about the newly named Salish Sea. Today I am going to take us on a photo journey where BC Ferries share these busy waters, sometimes to its own peril.

The main thoroughfare between Vancouver, the Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island is Active Pass and it is as busy as the name implies. BC Ferries share these waters with fishing boats, freighters, kayakers, pleasure boats, sail boats, whale watching boats, tug boats and float planes… in addition to whales, seals, salmon, sea lions, sea otters, eagles, cormorants and seagulls.

Often, whether on the one of BC Ferries vessels or on shore, the three blasts of the ferry horn can be heard warning another sea traveler to get out of its path. But an accident like yesterday morning where rope tangled around the propeller of the Queen of Nanaimo preventing her from slowing adequately as she came into the Village Bay berth at Mayne Island is, thankfully, a rare occurrence.

Four passengers and one or possibly two crew members were injured as a result of the accident. The vessel is reported to have sustained damage to the rubbing strake and bow door frame. The terminal sustained damage to the wingwalls, which are part of the berthing structure, as well as to the ramp apron. Village Bay has two berths, so the terminal remains operational.

On Friday July 30, 2010, I left Mayne Island for a long weekend visit to Oroville Washington high desert. The ferry terminal was waking with stunning beauty as BC Ferries vessels and fishing boats appeared and disappeared in the drifting fog.

The Mayne Queen departs after dropping off passengers and vehicles from Saturna Island who join us in the wait for the Queen of Nanaimo. Blasts from the ship’s whistle can be heard as she navigates through the thick mist

I slip into the back of my pickup truck “Miss Prissy” to get a better view as the vessel that left Salt Spring Island and then Pender Island approach the Village Bay terminal. I am on my way to Vancouver. The Queen of Nanaimo is the ferry that will take me there after another stop on Galiano Island.

In minutes we are on board and I move around the outer decks taking photos…

Morning coffee aboard the Queen of Nanaimo

fishing boat and BC Ferries

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and the mist hanging on Galiano Island as we enter Active Pass.

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Yesterday, on my scheduled return trip, BC Ferries staff wait to reach me before I get to the Tsawwassen ticket booth. Do I have a reservation? I did. The Queen of Nanaimo has been in an accident. The ship can’t be moved. I am being rerouted to Victoria. I will be given priority on sailings going to Mayne Island at 3:00 pm and 4:25 pm. I won’t be charged any extra fare. I move forward in the line.

My mind begins to scramble with making all the necessary changes – make sure David has food for lunch, cancel my afternoon coaching sessions and all the other details that come to mind when our plans are set aside in the immediacy of the unexpected. I reach the ticket booth and hand over my credit card to verify my reservation.

Numbly I ask the ticket agent what happened. She gave me a brief rundown. The ferry hit the berth hard on its approach. The cause is under investigation. I ask if anyone was hurt. My heart sank as she confirmed that “yes, people had been hurt.” I line up in row 40 to wait for the large new Coastal Celebration ferry that will drop me at Swartz Bay around noon… just about the same time as I had expected to be home. I start making phone calls sorting out the changes to my day. It is summer tourist season. Many people around me are from someplace else speaking a language I don’t understand. I look for familiar faces and find one. We recap the morning sharing bits of information as we try to create a new reality that is different than the one we had imagined.

The rest of morning and afternoon I continue to make ongoing adjustments. No I can’t go into Victoria. The scheduled runs are overloaded. We are told to proceed directly to the terminal area for the Gulf Islands. Extra trips are scheduled but by the time it is decided who will go on which ferries and extra staff are found we leave at the scheduled 3:00 pm time only stopping at Mayne Island first before the Mayne Queen continues on to Saturna Island.

By the time I arrive home and see the Queen of Nanaimo still sitting in the berth at Village Bay – the very vessel that was to bring me home five hours earlier – I was exhausted but pleased with my ability to ride with the changing currents with the sun at my back and the wind in my face.

The Vancouver Sun reports:

Injuries to the passengers ranged from a concussion to a possible broken ankle and possible cracked ribs.

Mike Corrigan, B.C. Ferries executive vice-president and chief operating officer, said the preliminary investigation points to “a significant amount of rope in the propellers, especially in the port propellers.”

He said the rope, likely from crab or prawn traps, made it impossible for the crew to adjust the propellers. “So when the captain tried to go astern to slow the vessel down, basically the propeller was stuck in a forward position and wouldn’t let him do that.”
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The Queen of Nanaimo will have to undergo sea trials before it is back in operation. A smaller vessel will try and do some of the regular schedule but it won’t nearly be enough at the height of the tourist season. This story won’t be news today. The world will have moved their attention on to other events. But if you live in the Southern Gulf Islands or were planning on coming to our beautiful part of the Salish Sea the waves of this incident will continue to ripple for days.

Sprout Question: When was the last time your day ran ahead of you while you skidded along behind hanging on to its tail?

© 2010 Terrill Welch, All rights reserved.

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From Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada