Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Old Lobster Traps Never Die

They are made into Christmas Trees
Watercolour, oil pastel and marker
Charlene Brown

I first heard about this custom only this year, but apparently lobster trap Christmas trees were first built in the New England States almost twenty years ago. The idea was picked up in lobster fishing ports in the Atlantic Provinces about ten years ago. There, the trees are often festooned with uniquely painted buoys commemorating fishers who have been lost at sea.  

December being one of the proverbial ‘months with an R’ I wondered at first about this particular use of lobster traps, but I read further and discovered that only traps that have been put to good use for many years and are considered beyond repair are used.  

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

My first Christmas away from home

Watercolour and oil pastel
©2018 Charlene Brown

This painting may be used as an illustration in Chapter 3 in the 6-generation auto-fictional journal I am writing. This chapter features a composite character (mostly me) called Mary-Jean. Here’s an excerpt from the draft.

In November 1963, after hitch-hiking through a ridiculous number of countries, Mary-Jean started looking for a job near Innsbruck, so she would have a place to stay during the upcoming Winter Olympics.  She got a job washing floors in a Krankenhaus on a mountain-side south of the city. One week after she started she was told that ‘her’ President had been shot. As she hadn’t yet acquired the 50-word German vocabulary one needs to wash floors in Austria, they practically had to act out Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas to get the message across. Even though Kennedy wasn’t her President at all, like many Canadians she thought he was terrific.  It was a very lonely time until a joyous Tyrolean Christmas – despite the trauma of being her first Christmas away from home – worked its miracle a few weeks later. 

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Juan d Fuca Marine Trail

The Juan de Fuca Marine Trail is a rugged 47-kilometre trail along the southwest coast of Vancouver Island. 

The upper picture is a panoramic view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Mountains in Washington State. The lower picture shows Seal Grotto, a prime seal habitat.

These paintings may be used as illustrations in Chapter 6 of the multi-generational auto-fiction novel I am writing  the ‘purely speculative’ chapter I referred to in my December 5 blog post. They show a very real adventure that took place ‘way back in 2018’ and is referred to in a conversation that takes place in 2042 in the novel.

Pay attention; there may be a test.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Boundless Human Energy Haiku

Mt. Robson, BC

Haiga is a style of painting that incorporates the clean, minimalist, yet often profound, aesthetic of haiku.  Both haiku and haiga translate nature through an artistic language with spiritual immediacy and selfless skill. This is achieved through Zen-like training in contemplation and technique.

About twenty-five years ago I attended a watercolour workshop in the Canadian Rockies given by well-known American artist, Barbara Nechis. We were in the Bow Valley surrounded by spectacular peaks, and Barbara reminded us that some of them had been painted hundreds, if not thousands, of times. She went on to suggest that, under the circumstances, we consider carefully whether or not each of the paintings we were about to produce really ‘needed’ to be done.

I’ve tried to heed Barbara’s advice – working on something approaching her wonderfully loose, semi-abstract style. Hence the ‘abstracting’ of Mount Robson into clean  and simple haiga to go with the clean and simple haiku.

Having cleared that up, we will now attempt to make sense of the first line of the haiku.  It refers to a possible outcome of research on modified microbes. Genetically engineered bacteria and yeast can produce hydrocarbon-based fuels from organic waste. In addition to being renewable, the microbes are ‘carbon-neutral’ using about the same amount of carbon to produce the oil as will be emitted when it burns.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Mid-21st Century Northern Lights

Northern Lights at Takhini Hot Springs, near Whitehorse and Talus Lake in Tombstone Territorial Park 
Watercolour, crayon and marker
©2018 Charlene Brown

This painting may be used to illustrate Chapter 6 of the multi-generational  auto-fiction novel I am writing. Chapter 6 begins in 2042 and is set in Yukon.

Chapter 1 of the novel begins fairly accurately with my  grandmother’s adventures at the turn of the twentieth century, but the young women in succeeding chapters, including myself in Chapter 3, become less individually recognizable and more likely to be ‘composites’ representing more than one person. Chapter 6, about ‘Alexandra’ who is born in 2027 is, of course, purely speculative.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Another National Park Geothermal Haiku

Paint Pots, BC

For centuries, the Ktunaxa, Stoney and Blackfoot First Nations used the ochre beds surrounding the ‘paint pots’ in Kootenay National Park as a source of pigments for ceremonial purposes. 

The ore was even mined for a time in the early 20th century, before it was decided that this was incompatible with the objectives of the National Park system.

What this haiku might have to do with National Park environmental objectives gets a little circuitous... Existing infrastructure may point to the less energy-intensive upgrading of existing buildings compared to tearing down and starting over with all new materials, and charging as they go could refer to any form of transportation that generates electricity while in motion.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Mid-century Northern Lights

Northern Lights in Banff
Watercolour and crayon 
©2018 Charlene Brown

I had no record of the very occasional Northern Lights we would see in Banff when I was growing up there. So I’ve used internet photos that resemble what I remember and placed them in the NE to SE sky over Banff in the positions they appeared most frequently. And now I have a record of the very occasional etc…

The main colours used in these paintings were Indanthrene Blue and Ultramarine Violet. Or maybe Carbazole Violet I have big wadges of both on my palette and I’m not sure which is which.  I also used a Neon green crayon I bought 25 years ago as part of a set, and have had almost no use for well, I mean look at it where do you ever see that colour in nature?

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Low Carbon Transit Haiku

Pond Inlet, Nunavut

Pond Inlet is one of the most picturesque communities in Canada’s Arctic. However, because of its isolation the cost of food and other materials such as construction supplies can be much higher than that of southern Canada. Milk is close to $4 a litre and carbonated drinks can be as much as $4.50 a can. There are environmental costs as well, because supplies must be brought in by ship during the short ice-free summer season or even more expensively and energy-intensively by air for the rest of the year.

Hence the possible appeal of low carbon airship transit. Hard to say how kinetic energy storage devices, such as flywheels, fit into any of this, but it is known that they have better lifetime cycles and higher power and capacity than static energy storage devices such as batteries or capacitors have.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Painting Waterfalls

Here are two of the waterfalls in Johnston Canyon, about 20 kilometres west of Banff. There are a few higher falls in this canyon,but I think these ones are the prettiest.

There wasn't a huge amount of water coming down the canyon in late September when I was there, and I have tried to get that effect by painting quite intensely over a thin white crayon resist.

I have previously written blog posts about water paintings using this technique (with varying degrees of similarity to the actual appearance) in locations such as Maquinna Provincial Park, Ireland, Kakabeka Falls, Niagara Falls, Esquimalt, Balboa Park, Japan, Croatia, Korea and even Johnston Canyon.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Lake Water Storage Haiku


This may seem like an odd choice of a haiga to illustrate the term ‘lake water storage cooling,’ as the only Canadian city where this has been tried is Toronto. Québec is not situated on a lake – it’s on a narrow stretch of the St Lawrence River. (In fact, the name given to the original French settlement by Samuel de Champlain was based on an ­Algonquin word Kébec, meaning ‘where the river narrows.’)

Artificial sun experiments aim to improve the production processes for solar fuels, the next generation of renewable energy technologies, by using extreme temperatures to manufacture the fuels.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Virtual Paintout on Hashima Island this month

Hashima Island

Leaving Hashima
Watercolour and oil pastels
Charlene Brown

This Streetview picture was taken from a boat full of tourists leaving after viewing the deserted island of Hashima, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here is a link to it

The island once had an important seabed coal-mining facility, with the population peaking in 1959 at over 5000.  The workers were housed in apartment blocks, built to resist typhoons, including Japan’s first tall reinforced concrete buildings. However, as oil replaced coal in the 1960s, coal mines began closing down all over Japan. The Hashima mine closed in January 1974, and by April the island was cleared of all inhabitants.  35 years later it was opened to tourists and World Heritage designation was applied for. At first this was opposed by Korea and China because of the forced labour used in the mine before and during World War II, but both countries withdrew their opposition when Japan agreed to acknowledge this in signage on the site.   

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Garbage in, energy out

Mt. Assiniboine

Replacing the use of scarce resources by converting garbage to energy is a potentially valuable consideration, especially in remote areas where resources fuel for heat or electricity generators, for example must be shipped in. The conversion would, of course, have to be very efficient, even utilizing the CO2 and other gases produced in the process.

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

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 Late 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 time 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.