Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Hard to paint, impossible to photograph

Johnston Canyon, Ink Pots, Banff National Park

Ink Pots
Watercolour and oil pastel
©2018 Charlene Brown

If you’ve ever hiked to the Ink Pots, about 3 km (straight up) from the Upper Falls in Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park, you’ll know it’s pretty hard to get more than about two and a half of them into any one photo.  They’re all on slightly different levels and there are signs telling you to stay on the trail you can’t climb anywhere to try to get an overview. So you walk around the area as much as you can taking a lot of photos, which you put together in a pattern resembling the real thing leaving out some of the trees, then paint them.
The signs about staying on the trail also explain why the pools are different colours.  The spring water bubbling up through the sand and river gravel fills the various pools at different rates.  The milky-green pools fill more slowly and thus have a heavier suspension of fine materials than the clear deep-blue pools.  (Seems to me it should be the other way around, with the slow-filling pools having had time to settle. And how does that explain the colour of water running from one pond into another?)

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Run-of-the-river Haiku

Castle Mountain
Watercolour and computer
©2018 Charlene Brown 

The mountain was named in 1858 for its castle-like appearance, a result of erosive processes acting at different rates on the peak’s alternating layers of softer shale and harder limestone, dolomite and quartzite. From 1946 to 1979 it was known as Mount Eisenhower, but then reverted to the original (British) name with the highest peak named Eisenhower Tower.

The mountain’s Indigenous (Siksika) name has always been Miistukskoowa, and the river has always been the Bow.  There are numerous dams and reservoirs along the Bow, supplying water for hydroelectricity, irrigation, and municipal and industrial uses, after it leaves the Banff National Park, but only relatively small non-storage ‘run-of-the-river power generation would now be acceptable in the park.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

David Foster Harbour Pathway

View from the south side of Victoria Harbour
Watercolour and marker
©2018 Charlene Brown

The Harbour Pathway celebrates our unique working harbour, recognizing Lekwungen First Nations history and enhancing the natural marine habitat. When complete, the pathway, named for musician and producer David Foster, will extend over five kilometres from the Rock Bay industrial area, under the new bascule bridge at Johnson Street, around the Inner Harbour, past the Empress and the Provincial Legislature to the Ogden Point cruise ship terminal. 

The condominium where I live is in the Songhees area, on the north side of the harbour shown in the upper right of the painting. The Westsong Walkway runs along that side from the Johnson Street Bridge to Head Street in Esquimalt

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

As You Like It – set in Vancouver, in the Sixties!

Bard on the Beach
Watercolour sketch
©2018 Charlene Brown

In August I went over to Vancouver for a matinee performance of Shakespeare’s As You Like It, a hilarious version set in Vancouver in the 1960s, with music by the Beatles, much of it sing-along. This adaptation actually follows the original plot in a recognizable manner and most of the action takes place in the Okanagan Forest, which is of course an apple forest because the Okanagan is one of Canada’s prime fruit-growing areas.

Bard on the Beach presents four Shakespearean plays throughout the summer in two tents, the larger of which seats 733 in 15 tiers. The only other time I attended a play there was many years ago and I’m pretty sure we sat on benches on one level in one tent.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Virtual Paintout in Amsterdam

Corner of Herengracht Canal and Amstel River
Charlene Brown

There are more than 100 kilometers of canals in Amsterdam, forming about 90 islands connected by 1500 bridges. Herengracht is one of the four main concentric canals forming a belt around the old city. Here is a link to the Streetview I have painted, the intersection of the Herengracht canal and the Amstel River.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Photovoltaic Haiku

Canadian Museum of Human Rights, Winnipeg

The cables to the left of the vehicle bridge in the painting hold up a separate, side-spar cable-stayed pedestrian bridge. This part of the bridge, the Esplanade Riel, was named after Louis Riel, a Métis who was hanged for treason in 1885. The Human Rights museum opened in 2014 to much acclaim… and protests from groups – the Métis, for example – who believe that Canada’s actual human rights record isn’t nearly as grand as the building.

Line I: Photovoltaic electricity is produced by converting light using semiconducting materials.
Line II: Grid parity, the point at which an energy source becomes a contender for widespread development without government support, is more easily achieved with the abundant sunlight of summer.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Virtual Paintout in the US Virgin Islands

Columbus’ Landing site from Frigate View, Christiansted, St.Croix
Watercolour and marker
Charlene Brown

The Virtual Paintout is in the US Virgin Islands this month. There are three islands to choose from and I picked this view on St.Croix.  Here is a link to it

It’s great to have the Virtual Paintout back after a long hiatus! The last time I sent them a painting was a year ago when it was in Buenos Aires. Here is a link to that post

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The biggest tea plantation in all of Canada

Westholme Tea Farm
Watercolour and oil pastel
©2018 Charlene Brown

Last week we visited this Vancouver Island tea farm. It’s hidden away in the hills north of Duncan, near the Crofton terminal of the SaltSpring Island ferry. The tea plants are on terraces above the building housing the tearoom, preparation rooms, tea shop and ceramics gallery. Their own and other organic teas are served indoors or on the patio (under those white umbrellas) beside their extensive flower and herb gardens, and what must be the biggest fig tree Canada.

We had tea and dessert decorated with a sprig of lavender and the pottery’s characteristic spiral design.  This design also appears in their branding and some of the ceramic teasets for sale in the gallery.  I found it reminiscent of Hundertwasser’s painting and architecture, particularly in the cityscape design on some of their ceramics, and have worked the theme into my painting.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

What the Early Second Millennium CE looked like around the World

Americas and Pacific
The moai monoliths were carved between 1250 and 1500 CE on Rapa Nui, a Chilean island also called Isla de Pascua or Easter Island, at the southeasternmost point of the Polynesian Triangle. Of the almost 900 of these  massive head and torso statues, 45% have been moved and positioned, 10% were dropped along the route from the quarry and 45%, including the largest which is 12 metres in length and weighs 75 tons, remain in the quarry.


The Historic Centre of Tallinn, Estonia dates back to the 13th century, when a castle was built there by the returned knights of the Teutonic Order.  It developed as a very wealthy major centre of the Hanseatic League, and now contains some prime examples of Northern European Medieval architecture.

Near East & Africa

The Bahla Fort at Nizwa, Oman is an outstanding example of a fortified oasis settlement of the Medieval Islamic period. The walls and towers of this immense structure are made of unbaked brick on a stone foundation, and the compound is watered by an extensive falaj system.

The picturesque village of Shirakawa-go in Japan, known for the cultivation of mulberry trees and sericulture (silkworm farming), is located in a mountainous region that was cut off from the rest of the country. A steeply-roofed, thatched multi-level Gassho-style architecture, well suited to heavy snowfall, evolved. The area was settled for hundreds of years BCE, but the name ‘Shirakawa-go’ did not appear clearly in history until the 12th century.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Synergistic Haiku

Lake O’Hara
Storable power: energy storage systems convert electricity into a storable form of energy and release the energy back as electricity at a later time. Storage technologies under study include pumped-storage hydropower, compressed air systems that can spin a turbine, and utility-scale batteries.

Net zero-ready building: designing building to be very energy efficient with the appropriate infrastructure to handle an onsite power plant when price of photovoltaics comes down

This is synergy: creation of a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts – particularly in remote areas such as Lake O’Hara.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Almost downtown compared to Hot Springs Cove

Evening at Harrison Hot Springs
Watercolour and oil pastel
©2018 Charlene Brown

Just two hours east of Vancouver along the rim of Harrison Lake in a hanging valley above the Fraser is a popular and heavily developed strip of hotels including the Harrison Hot Springs Resort and Spa.  There are several large indoor and outdoor pools kept at various temperatures, plus the long sandy beach for cooler swimming – quite the opposite of the barely-accessible hot springs in Maquinna Marine Provincial Park that I wrote about a few months ago.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Here’s what happens when you ask for suggestions

Spirit Bears
Watercolour and oil pastel
©2018 Charlene Brown

I asked for ideas when I was wondering what to paint this week, and my daughter suggested a bear. I reminded her that I usually paint landscapes and she had a simple solution, “Put it in a landscape – a foggy forest.” In my mind this quickly became a rainforest, so the bear had to be a Spirit Bear or Kermode and it had to have a couple of cubs.

The Kermode, which is white, is a rare mutation of the American black bear, found only along the coast and islands of British Columbia between the southeastern tip of Alaska and the northern tip of Vancouver Island.  Pictures of Kermodes on the internet showed various combinations of black and white parents and cubs, not including a white mother with one black and one white cub but I decided to go with that anyway.

If you’re interested, have a look at my two other bear paintings, grizzlies in British Columbia and polar bears, probably in Manitoba, but done from a picture found on the Isle of Man). 

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.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Cement Plant Haiku

Butchart Gardens in Winter

This spectacular garden, now a National Historic Site, was begun by Jenny Butchart in 1904, when she decided something needed to be done about the gaping hole left where limestone had been quarried for the family cement business, located near Victoria.

Because of the cement reference, ‘Butchart Gardens in Winter’ was chosen as the haiga to illustrate this haiku.  It is one of a ‘year-round’ series of computer-stylized versions of the watercolour shown on the right.  

Saturday, May 26, 2018

What the Third Century BCE looked like around the world

Following my last blog post about paintings of eigth century CE archaeological sites relating to four very different cultures, I decided to write about paintings of archaeological sites from the same geographical regions Americas & Pacific, Europe, Near East & Africa and Asia reflecting third century BCE sites.

Once again, Europe was the area for which I didn’t already have a painting, and I selected the island of Delos in Greece.  Despite the title, it and the other paintings posted here do not in fact show 'what the third century BCE looked like' at all.  They show what some third century BCE sites look like now  except for the painting of the plank longhouse, which is based on an old photograph and shows what the coastal settlements looked like in the nineteenth century.
Located at the centre of the Cyclades, Delos was an important centre in Greek mythology and history. The Terrace of the Lions, shown here, originally had as many as twelve squatting, snarling marble guardian lions when built in the seventh century BCE. However, following the death of Alexander the Great in the fourth century, increasing political disarray, the lack of water and trading infrastructure on Delos caused the island to go into decline.  It was for a time the centre of the slave trade and eventually came under Roman control. 

Americas & Pacific
First Nations of the British Columbia coast and islands of Haida Gwai built the first permanent habitation in that region plank longhouses in the late fourth and third centuries BCE. 

Near East & Africa
When Alexander the Great died, his empire was divided among three of his generals. North Africa, the part that went to General Ptolemy fared much better than the European and eastern Mediterranean sectors.  The city of Ptolemais in present day Libya was founded in the third century BCE by Ptolemy III, a descendant of Gen. Ptolemy. Much later, after the Romans took over, Diocletian imposed wage and price controls, which I have superimposed on this computer painting.  

Meanwhile, in the Far East, construction of the Great Wall of China began late in the third century during the last years of the Qin Dynasty.  It was expanded, strengthened and maintained by the Emperors of the Han Dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE).

Saturday, May 19, 2018

What the Eighth Century looked like around the World

Afew years ago I put together a cross-cultural 'History of Design' timeline covering art and architecture from prehistoric times to the beginning of the twenty-first century.  I used either facts I'd learned while visiting archaeological sites or looked up when I was writing blog posts about them.  While making some additions to this timeline recently, I noticed I have painted archaeological sites from the Americas, Asia and the Middle East dating from the eighth century CE, but didn't have anything from Europe for that time period.  In Europe the time from the fifth to the fifteenth centuries was referred to as the Dark Ages.  The first painting below fills that gap.  It and the other paintings posted here do not in fact show 'what the eighth century looked like' at all.  They show what some eighth century sites look like now.

The Cathedral of Aix-la-Chapelle in Aachen Germany is one of the oldest in Europe.  Construction started in the late eighth century by order of Charlemagne.  It was heavily damage in the ninth century by Vikings and restored in the tenth century.  Originally Carolingian in style, with Gothic additions in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the cathedral was heaviy damaged, and restored, in the twentieth century.

Americas & Pacific
Copan, in what is now Honduras, known as the Athens of the New World, was founded in the fifth century and construction continued through the 700-year Golden Age of Mayan Culture.  The Hieroglyphic Stairway shown here, which has enabled historians to decipher the Mayan language, was completed in the eighth century.

Near East & Africa
The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem is an example of Umayyad architecture which developed in the Middle East in the seventh and eighth centuries, at the beginning of Islam. Completed at the beginning of the eighth century, the Dome was built on the Temple Mount, site of Herod’s  Temple in the first century BCE and a subsequent Roman temple in the second century CE, and may have been an addition to an existing Byzantine building.  It collapsed and was restored after earthquakes in the ninth and eleventh centuries, became a Christian church after the Crusaders captured Jerusalem at the end of the eleventh century and was re-consecrated as a Muslim shrine in the late twelfth century.

Meanwhile in the Far East, the Bulguksa Temple was completed by the Court of Silla in the eighth century.  Considered a masterpiece of the Golden Age of Buddhist art, the temple encompassses seven National Treasures of South Korea, including two stone pagodas, the Blue Cloud Bridge and two bronze statues of the Buddha.