Wednesday, July 18, 2018

What the Mid-Second Millennium CE looked like around the world

Americas and Pacific

Morro Castle(Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos dei Morro, named after the Biblical Three Kings) is typical of 17th century Spanish American military architecture.  It guards the entrance to Havana Bay in Cuba.


The early 18th century Roccoco-style architecture of the Alte Stadt (old city) of Innsbruck in the Tirolean Alps is sometimes described as the exuberantly decorative final expression of the Baroque movement.

Near East & Africa

The Shah Mosque, completed in the 17th century, was renamed the Imam Mosque at the of the Islamic Revolution in 1979.  It stands at the south end of spectacular Nagsh-e Jahan Square in Isfahan.


Jodha Bai’s Palace, a mixture of Hindu and Moghul styles, is at Fatehpur Sikri, a small city just west of Agra, that was founded by a 16th century Mughal emperor.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Working with a sow’s ear for a few years yet

Haro Strait

The controversial issue of sending more tankers full of dilbit from Alberta through the Georgia and Haro Straits on their way to Asia is causing much disagreement between the provincial and federal governments.

Negotiations have included the promise of greatly improved clean-up capabilities (the silk purse) to deal with any spills (sow's ears) that may occur in the years before the globally sustainable post-carbon economy kicks in. Retro net zero, or retro-fitting existing homes so they are significantly more energy efficient is another silk purse possibility.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

What the Third Millennium BCE looked like around the world

Americas & Pacific
The pre-Incan Temple of the Crossed Hands, in Kotosh, Peru, is the oldest archaeological structure in the Andes.  Stone constructions suggest that complicated building work began here in the third Millennium BCE centuries before anywhere else in the Americas.


Construction of Mnajdra, part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Megalithic Temples of Malta, began in the fourth Millennium BCE, and this part on a hilltop overlooking the sea and the islet of Fifla, was built in the third Millenium BCE. The temples of Malta are among the oldest religious structures on Earth.

Near East & Africa
This stylized version of the bas-relief carving on the Garden Tomb of Hili  at the Al Ain oasis in present day United Arab Emirates, represents the Umm Al Naar civilization that flourished at the southeast end of the Persian Gulf in the third Millennium BCE. The tomb was constructed in the same time period as the much grander neo-Sumerian ziggurat at Ur in present-day Iraq, and the Old Kingdom Pyramids and Sphinx at Giza in Egypt.

Mohenjo-daro, one of the largest settlements in the ancient Indus River civilization, was built in about the middle of the third Millenium BCE. It is located in the province of Sindh, Pakistan.
The city was abandoned soon after the beginning of the second Millenium (19th century) BCE, and the site was not re-discovered until the early 20th century CE.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Haiku - off on a tangent

LeBret Saskatchewan
A tangent is a mathematical term, meaning a line or plane that touches a curved surface but doesn’t intersect it. The non-mathematical meaning of tangent comes from this sense of barely touching something: when a conversation (or day-dreaming) heads off on a tangent, it’s hard to see how or why it came up.

Sometimes the most brilliant, break-through ideas appear out of nowhere when people are trying to solve a problem by combining unrelated concepts (eg. found haiku such as ‘disruptive new stuff’ and ‘ecological footprint’) and somebody’s thoughts go off on a tangent – this is the concept behind ‘brainstorming’ (and day-dreaming if there's only one person involved) and it has resulted in a lot of spectacular-sounding new ideas, a tiny percentage of which are actually useful.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

After the Fire

Waterton Lakes National Park
Watercolour and oil pastel
©2018 Charlene Brown

Many years of strict fire prevention and suppression in western Canada has resulted in mountainsides of over mature, deteriorating trees, very susceptible to the drying effects of even a little year-round warming and the insect infestations that followed. The appearance of  unbroken stretches of highly combustible dead or dying trees, especially in the National Parks, brought about forestry policy changes and a shift to controlled burning to manage forested areas and create fire-breaks, with efforts to completely suppress wildfire limited to populated areas. 

Such an all-effort saved the town of Waterton from a wildfire last September.  I have painted the burnt area surrounding the town and covering the entire mountainside above it in the silvery-mauve patina I’ve observed in previous blog posts about an earlier wildfire in KootenayNational Park.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Electric airship haiku

Cobalt Lake

The haiga I’ve selected to illustrate this haiku is a computer-stylized version of a watercolour painting I did on the last day of a heli-painting expedition in the Bugaboos – the best plein air painting day ever!

On the bus from Banff on our way to the heliport in the Columbia Valley for the start of the expedition, the drop-off procedure to be followed had been explained to us.  At first, I thought they were joking but no, this is how it’s done… When you set down on some windswept, not particularly level ridge, the helicopter doesn’t actually stop, and they don’t want anyone near the ends of the rotor. So, as soon as you’re out, you crouch down no more than two meters from the runners, covering your head and holding all your stuff down until the helicopter is gone and the propwash gravel and the racket give way to silence. Then you straighten up as smoothly as possible, brush yourself off, and try not to think about assuming that crouched position again (with your eyes closed) while the helicopter lands beside you when it comes to pick you up.

Originally built for heli-skiing, then high-elevation heli-hiking, the whole lodging and transport system in the Bugaboos is conscientiously designed and operated to minimize the carbon footprint.  But I couldn’t help thinking that, if such things existed, electric airships would be even better environmentally.  And you wouldn’t have to worry about the rotor or the flying gravel…

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Illustrating Autofiction


This computer collage will be the illustration at the end of Chapter 1 of the multi-generational family journal I am writing.

Last January, I wrote a blog post about the illustration at the beginning of Chapter 1, in which I described the journal as creative non-fiction.  I’ve just learned that there’s a name for this particular sub-genre of creative non-fiction – it is autofiction, defined as ‘writing that blurs the boundaries between autobiography and fiction.’  

In keeping with this definition, parts of ‘1904’ have been blurred to accommodate the altered name of the central female character, one of just a few fictional elements in Chapter 1.  Later chapters of the book will have quite a few more fictional aspects and names than Chapter 1. 

Saturday, June 9, 2018

What the fourteenth century looked like around the world

Americas & Pacific
Tenochtitlán, founded in 1325, was the capital of the Aztec empire.  Unlike most of my ‘point in time’ paintings, this is not a picture of what it looks like now a remnant of the Templo Mayor in downtown Mexico City.  Rather, it is my interpretation (from various models that archaeologists have assembled) of what this “awe-inspiring mega-city that stunned its European discoverers” and the chinampas (floating gardens) surrounding it actually looked like in the fourteenth century. 

Near East & Africa
I sketched this picture of the mausoleum of Oljaytu during an Art Gallery of Greater Victoria tour of Iran in April of last year. The octagonal mausoleum was constructed in the early fourteenth century in the city of Soltaniyeh, in Zanjan province.  With its 50 metre high, faience-covered dome, it is considered to be one of the outstanding achievements of Persian architecture.

The Haedong Yonggungsa Temple is one of the fascinating places I’d heard about for the first time when I was researching South Korea’s ‘painting possibilities’ when I was hoping to travel there in 2013. When the trip was called off following a disagreement with North Korea, I decided to go ahead and paint some of them anyway.
Unlike most Buddhist temples in Korea, typically built high in the mountains, Haedong Yonggungsa is spectacularly situated overlooking the East China Sea.  It was built in 1376, and is one of the major Buddhist temples in Busan. 

Europe April 5, 1996 was a perfect day to see the Alhambra and I discovered, after a one-hour climb from the Granada train station to the palace gate, that literally thousands of others thought so as well. (It happened to be Good Friday, which may have had something to do with this.) I waited one hour in a queue to buy a ticket which stated my hora de entrada to the Moorish Palaces, would be in another three hours!

There is a theory that the Alhambra, completed in the late fourteenth century, came by its name, from an Arabic word, al-hamra, for red, because of the colour in the stone used to construct it. But I prefer the explanation that, in their haste to fortify the position, the original Muslim conquerors were forced to work by the red glow of torchlight. Present day visitors have no such constraints, of course.  I had all the time I needed to sketch the all-encompassing view from the watchtower – the courtyards, and roof-tops of the palaces, up through gardens and olive groves to the peaks of the Sierra Nevada.