Sunday, December 29, 2019

One more for the Bucket List

Mulafossur Falls
Watercolour and oil pastel
©2019 Charlene Brown
This spectacular waterfall is on Vagar, one of the Faroe Islands, an autonomous territory within the Kingdom of Denmark. These islands form an archipelago north of Scotland about halfway between Norway and Iceland.

The uniquely stark landscapes of the islands work well as computer-stylized designs. On the right is a design based on this painting with an overlay of some interesting facts about the extensively developed system of tunnels through mountains and undersea between islands that links almost 90% of the population of the Faroe Islands.

Sunday, December 22, 2019


Star Fountain
Watercolour and oil pastel
Charlene Brown

The fountain shown here is on Star Street in Bethlehem near the Church of the Nativity which covers the grotto believed by most Christians to be the location of the birth of Christ two thousand years ago.

Bethlehem is about ten kilometres south of Jerusalem. The area was occupied by Rome at the time of Christ’s birth, and has been invaded and occupied many times over the years since.  Although control of the region has alternated between Arabs and Israelis in recent years – it was part of the Israeli-occupied West Bank after the Six-Day War in 1967, but was turned over to the Palestinian Authority following the Oslo Accords in 1993 it is mainly Christians who come to see Bethlehem, especially at this time of year.  I hope to be one of them next November.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Travelling wave reactor haiku

Black swans and alicorns
©2019 Charlene Brown

When putting together 'found' poetry for Inventing the Future, my book of clean energy haiku,  I somehow missed ‘travelling wave reactor,’ a potential source of clean energy with seven syllables!  So here it is – the most enigmatic poem yet.
An allegory
Travelling wave reactor
Alchemy balance

An allegory is a device used in ­literature and art to ­signify a meaning that is not literal. It may be symbolic of a concept such as:
  • a black swan, which is an unpredictable or unforeseen event, typically one with extreme consequences, or 
  • a mythological creature, a mixture of pegasus and unicorn, referred to as an alicorn - the Latin word for the horn of a unicorn in alchemical texts.
Alchemy is, of course, the medieval forerunner of chemistry - a seemingly magical process of transformation, creation or combination. 

Sunday, December 8, 2019

National Geographic list of Best Trips

Jiaxiu Tower, Guiyang, Guizhou
Watercolour and oil pastel
Charlene Brown

A recent email from National Geographic featured a list of 20 Best Trips, so I opened all the links looking for possible additions to my Bucket List. I’ve been to a few of the places listed, Mostar in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Abu Simbel in Egypt, the Grand Canyon in the United States and Tasmania in Australia, and I’d heard of all the others except Guizhou Province.

It turns out that, “Historically one of China’s most isolated and undiscovered provinces, southwestern Guizhou is gaining global notice as a cloud computing and big-data centre. The mountainous region’s plentiful water and cool climate are draws for Apple, Huawei, and other tech powerhouses that have established or are building facilities in the provincial capital, Guiyang.”  Who knew?

The word ‘mountainous’ caught my eye so I tried searching for something paintable… But this striking juxtaposition of the 14th century Jiaxiu Tower and some 21st century towers was the only location that caught my eye. I probably won’t be adding Guizhou to my Bucket List.

But Puebla in Mexico, another place on the list, could be a possibility.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Climate change?

Yellow-browed Warbler
Watercolour and oil pastel
©2019 Charlene Brown

Warming temperatures are causing the habitats of some species of plants and animals to shift to higher latitudes and altitudes.  In Canada we are seeing insect and bird species, until a few years ago only found in the United States, moving further and further north.

The recent and very rare sighting on Vancouver Island of a Yellow-browed Warbler was not one of those however.  Exciting as it was – birders came from mainland British Columbia and Washington state –this was simply an example of an Asian resident blown off course.

This warbler – there was just the one, not the family group in the painting – is referred to as a ‘vagrant’ and, considering how far he is from his normal migration route between Russia and South-east Asia, likely a ‘hitchhiker’ as well, for at least part of the distance.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The calm a half hour from the storm

St George’s Monastery in Wadi Qelt
Charlene Brown

Wadi Qelt, said to be the 'valley of the shadow of death' mentioned in Psalm 23, parallels the old Roman road to Jericho, the backdrop of the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

St George’s Monastery was originally built in about 500 CE, destroyed by the Persians 140 years later, then rebuilt by Crusaders but abandoned after their defeat.  Restored by Greek monks in the twentieth century, it is now a site of intense Greek Orthodox pilgrimage.

We may visit briefly sites such as Jericho where the action was in Biblical times, during a University of Victoria travel study program in November 2020.  However, as we are unlikely to spend much time in picturesque and now-peaceful locations like Wadi Qelt, I thought I’d paint some of them now. 

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Missing from 2001

Watercolour and oil pastel
©2019 Charlene Brown

Our Christmas letter in 2001 contained this sentence – In mid-September we went on a long-planned cruise which turned out to be a timely retreat from reality to the wilderness of Alaska to try to regain perspective on a changed world… referring of course to the aftermath of September 11, 2001.

At the Skagway stop we left our ship at the foot of the main street and took the White Pass & Yukon Railway Summit excursion to the Canadian border, where the half-staff flags reminded us of the terrible events in the ‘Lower 48.’

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Missing from 2000

Petit St Bernard Pass
Watercolour and oil pastel
©2019 Charlene Brown

When my husband retired from Emirates Airline in 2000, we picked up a new car in Sweden and drove around Europe for two months.  Half-way through this Grand Tour, we crossed from Italy into France. The following is excerpted from email we sent at the time.

As we made our way west, then north from Turin, it was like driving up out of a mauve sea of murk. The air got suddenly clearer, the highway got better and better, and the traffic got thinner and thinner. It was just amazing!

Then we discovered when we wheeled off our private autostrada for lunch at Morgex that we were probably the only people in Europe who didn’t know the Mont Blanc Tunnel was still closed because of the March 1999 fire.  The closest alternate route involved heading up a narrow road to the Petit St. Bernard Pass, said to be open at the time, though not guaranteed to stay that way.  As we approached the Italian/French border at the top of the pass, stretches of the road were carved out of three-metre snow banks, but the gentians and violas in the snow-free areas were brilliant, the glaciers dazzling, and there were (unsurprisingly) NO TRUCKS! Also no guardrails.

PS  We’re still driving that Volvo. And we still refer to it as our new car.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Missing from 1993

Caracal Lynx
Acrylic, gouache and latex
©1993 Charlene Brown

I produced this painting and several others at a workshop on mixed media overlay techniques presented at the British Council in Dubai by American painter, Douglas Walton.

A few of these paintings actually found their way into my 1993 Christmas letter (in the photo shown below) but I’m going to add the Caracal Lynx anyway.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Missing from 1991

Three Sisters
Watercolour and Photoshop™
©2013 Charlene Brown

This computer montage started out as two paintings (shown below) that I painted in 1991 at a workshop at Kananaskis just east of Banff National Park, led by California artist, Barbara Nechis.  

Until now it existed only on my computer but soon it will appear in my compilation of annual letters.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Read the last sentence of this post

Cover of my new book
Adobe InDesign document
©2019 Charlene Brown

The haiku book I’ve been working on, and blogging about since 2015, has just been published.  

Inventing the Future is available on Amazon. This link will remain available in the right hand column of my blog above my other Amazon links.

According to Seth Godin, “The most common way to deal with the future is to try to predict it. To be in the right place at the right time with the right skills or investments.  A far more successful and reliable approach is to invent the future. Not all of it, just a little part. But enough to make a difference.”

I don’t believe that the future is nearly as dire as the UN Climate Panel has predicted. The main reason for my optimism is that I believe we are finally becoming aware that we must change our behavior. We know that we must transition away from our heavy dependence on fossil fuels for transportation and energy production, and we must accomplish a significant portion of this transition soon.

The objective of this book of haiku is to invent (or at least point the way to) a better future. We are already locked in to decades of self-perpetuating climate change – but it won’t become irreversibly catastrophic if we act now.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Missing from 1990

Watercolour and Photoshop
©1990 Charlene Brown

This was painted following a visit to our daughter at her school in Switzerland.  I’ve since decided the original was kind of pale, so I’ve bumped up the colours in Photoshop and, while I was at it, changed the proportions compared to photos of the coffee shop on the Neuchatel lakefront, for example, the painting had everything stretched vertically.

The school in Switzerland was mentioned in my 1990 Christmas letter, but I didn’t think of including this painting until I started my current project to consolidate all the annual letters beginning that year.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The other missing 1998 paintings

Most of the Christmas letters I wrote had lots of photos, but hardly any had paintings. When I get all the ‘missing’ images lined up, I will add them to the letters that mention the adventures they illustrate, and then compile all the letters since I started writing them in 1990.
Here are a couple of the paintings I mentioned in my last blog post.  They will be added, along with the painting of Kathmandu, to the Christmas letter I wrote in 1998.  The bilingual Pepsi truck was drawn by our grandson, and the painting of Rawson Lake in Kananaskis Country is one of mine.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Missing from 1998

Watercolour and Photoshop™
Charlene Brown

A couple of paintings by our grandson, who was six when they visited us in Dubai in February 1998, and a painting I did in Alberta that summer will eventually make their way into that year’s Christmas letter. 

However, I couldn’t find any of the paintings I did on a trip to Nepal in March 1998.  So I painted this watercolour sketch. As you may have guessed, it has been photoshopped within an inch of its life, mainly using a process called posterization. This involves converting the original continuous gradation of colour to eight distinct tones, with abrupt changes from one to another. This served to give some solidity to the original overly-loose painting, but lost the effect of the multi-coloured prayer flags, as well as local and Tibetan textiles and costumes and of course the very colourful tourists, many of whom were decked out in florescent finery suitable for the ascent of Everest. I also underlaid parts of it with some Devanagari script.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Missing from 1996

Amber Fort
Watercolour and oil pastel
©2019 Charlene Brown

The beautiful Amber Fort, sometimes referred to as the Amber Palace, is located about 11 kilometres from Jaipur overlooking Maota Lake. Built of red sandstone and marble, mainly in Mughal style, it is the most opulent of the ‘Hill Forts of Rajestan,’ a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This is the second in a series of locations I plan to paint to add to a compilation of Christmas letters I wrote beginning in 1990. My 1996 letter included the photo of some tourist on an elephant shown on the right, taken on one of the ramps (in about the centre of the painting) coming down from the main gate .

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Missing from 1992

Nakhal Fort
Watercolour and oil pastel
©2019 Charlene Brown

I began writing detailed Christmas letters in 1990, the year we moved to Dubai. These letters always had lots of photos, but very seldom included any paintings.  My next project is to compile them all and add images of paintings relating to the adventures chronicled.  In cases where I don’t have any paintings that I like, I’ll paint new ones. This is the first.

Nakhal Fort is one of the places we visited during a road trip to Oman in 1992. It is located on a rocky prominence on a spur of the Hajar Mountains about 120 kilometres west of Muscat.  

Although this fort was originally built in the pre-Islamic period, most of what can be seen today was built less than 200 years ago.  The archaeology of Oman and the UAE at the south end of the Persian Gulf, is nowhere near as ancient as that found in Iraq and Iran at the north end.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Leif Erikson slept here

Springtime in L’Anse aux Meadows, NL
Watercolour and oil pastel
©2019 Charlene Brown

Dating to about 1000 CE, L’Anse aux Meadows is the only confirmed Norse site in North America. It is located on the northernmost tip of the Great Northern Peninsula on the island of Newfoundland. It was discovered in the 1960s and named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.

Reconstructions of the original sod buildings can be seen in about the centre of this painting, to the left of the grassy mounds protecting the actual location of what's left of the eight structures that have been found – leaving this area accessible for continued archeological digs. Evidence has been found indicating the largest of the original buildings may have been occupied by Leif Erikson.

Lush new grass and the tiny flowers of early spring (in mid-June) were everywhere from just below the still-melting snow on the ridge along the stream to the Norse settlement.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

View from the coast

Western Brook Pond gap
Watercolour and oil pastel
©2019 Charlene Brown

Early in the morning of our first full day in Gros Morne National Park we hiked 3km in from the coastal highway to the west end of Western Brook Pond, planning to board a boat for the trip to the end of the fjord 15 km inland for this iconic view.  

After waiting a couple of hours for the clouds to lift, during which the view of the mountains didn’t vary much from what you see on the right, the boat trip was cancelled.  

The next day, however, as we drove by on our way north to L’Anse aux Meadows, there they were – the near vertical cliffs framing the gap in the 800-metre high plateau of the Long Range Mountains, with a dusting of fresh snow, as shown in the painting above.  

This plateau is actually the most northern section of the Appalachian Mountains.  Who knew there was a fjord in the Appalachians? 

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Canada’s most adorable bird

An improbability of puffins
Watercolour and marker
©2019 Charlene Brown

Groups of puffins have been given several names, ranging from ‘colony’ to ‘improbability.’  

Hard to say where 'improbability' came from, but it may relate to their ability to fly.  Actually they do very well flapping about and diving to catch fish, often surfacing with several in their big beaks – once they manage to take off.  It’s just getting airborne that looks like an improbability. The only way they seem to be able to get going is to fall off the grassy ledge at the end of their burrow, beating their wings (and their feet, I think) as fast as they can.

We went out in a boat to see a cliff-face colony or improbability on an island in the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve.  You can’t go ashore of course, so I took dozens of blurry pictures of these adorable birds while bouncing around on the boat.  The blurriest among them were the ones trying to take off seemed like the only way to get them in focus was to paint them.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

A significant (religious) first

Colony of Avalon NL
©2019 Charlene Brown

Our tour of the reconstructed Colony of Avalon south of St. John’s included a hike around the settled part of the peninsula to see the original home sites, remnants of the water system, newly planted and strongly fenced food gardens, a look at a string of islands across the mouth of the harbour which still accommodate small herds of sheep that spend their summers there - unaccompanied but safe from land predators.  We also explored various waterfront buildings dating from the 1620s, housing a working bakery and a (non-working) alchemist’s operation as well as furnishings bearing the carved insignia of Elizabeth I.

There is also a large new building with a museum and a well-equipped archaeological research laboratory where the many artifacts found at the site are studied. Of particular significance is an ornate baroque cross believed to have fallen from the steeple of the Catholic church here. The presence of this artifact in the colony symbolizes something of a breakthrough. Despite the severe religious conflicts of the period, when Lord Baltimore launched the colony he secured the right of Catholics to practice their religion unimpeded, embracing the novel principle of religious tolerance for the first time in North America. Only 3-D printed replicas of the cross were available for viewing – see photo on the right – owing to its fragility.

The bergy bits in the lower left of the painting are the remnants of stranded icebergs.  Hard to believe that this cove, at latitude 47 degrees N is more than a degree further south than Victoria (48.4 degrees N) - where we have palm trees.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

The prettiest place in all of Newfoundland + Labrador – well, one of the prettiest places...

Trinity NL from Gun Hill
Watercolour and marker
©2019 Charlene Brown

This lovely town, which featured prominently in early European contact with North America, was named by Portuguese explorer Gaspar Corte-Real when he arrived here on Trinity Sunday in 1501.

Fishermen from England began using Trinity as a base in the 1570s and gradually began to settle the area and export fish to Britain.  Due to its importance in British-Newfoundland trade it was captured twice by the French during the Anglo-French Wars of 1696-1713 and once more during the Seven Years War of 1756-1763.

Trinity was also the site of the first court of justice in North America, the Court of the Admiralty, held in 1615.  In 1798, vaccination for small pox was introduced to the New World in Trinity by John Clinch, a medical colleague of Edward Jenner. 

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Cove with Pirate Cave (Not)

Brigus NL
Watercolour and oil pastel
©2019 Charlene Brown

This picturesque fishing village, first settled in 1612, has many attractive features, including the Hawthorne Cottage - a National Historic Site of Canada, the Stone Barn Museum and the Harbour Pond shown here, neatly lined with stone walls, as are the small rivers flowing into it through a community park. But the main attraction, sometimes thought to be a pirate cave (it really does look like it could be one, opening out to deep water from a sheer cliff) is the Brigus Tunnel.  It was built by the famous Captain Abram Bartlett because he sometimes had trouble finding a place to park and unload his fishing schooner in the sheltered cliff-side harbour in the right foreground. He purchased property behind the church in the upper left of the painting, and had a 25-metre-long tunnel dug (and blasted using gunpowder) through the ridge at the edge of the property. 

So, no treasure chests full of ill-gotten gains hidden in the Brigus tunnel, but right up until about 1910 lots of fish went through.  And more recently lots of tourists.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Neighbourhood Icebergs

Quilts in the breeze at Gunners Cove
Watercolour and marker
©2019 Charlene Brown

Large icebergs which have ‘calved’ off glaciers in Greenland drift south along the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador every spring. Some get hung up on shoals or trapped in coves and stay in town for weeks providing a steady supply of almost perfectly pure ice for anyone brave enough to go out in a boat and chop some off (those things roll, you know).  I’m sure there are many uses for this unique resource, but the only one we were told about was the brewing of iceberg beer.

 I took a lot of photos of these icebergs in various neighbourhoods, including an especially decorative one in Saint Lunaire-Griquet (shown on the right) two kilometres south of Gunners Cove.   I even considered including this particular iceberg in the painting of Gunners Cove, which provided a more paintable foreground, but decided to stick with the ones that were actually there. 

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Versions of History

Cupid’s Cove NL
Watercolour and oil pastel
©2019 Charlene Brown

This is the view of Cupid’s Cove from the Cupids Legacy Centre which was built in 2010 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the establishment of the first English settlement in Canada. There are those who dispute the claim that this settlement was the first, but the near-by Cupids Cove Plantation archaeological dig has yielded ample documentation and evidence of construction activity and farming beginning in 1610. It was certainly among the first.

The Legacy Centre also flies the three flags that are official flags of Newfoundland and Labrador – from left to right in the painting, the Provincial flag, adopted in 1980, the Canadian flag adopted in 1965, and the Union Jack, the official flag of the Colony of Newfoundland before Confederation in 1949, when Newfoundland and Labrador became a Canadian Province. The Legacy Centre does not fly the Newfoundland Tri-colour (pictured on the right), mistakenly thought to be an official flag and sometimes flown by contrarians but mainly seen on ‘Republic of Newfoundland’ tee-shirts.

Another source of variations in the history of Newfoundland is included in this painting – the two towers on Spectacle Head on the other side of the cove. Depending on who is telling the story, these towers:
  • predate the Norse colonization in the late 10th century
  • predate English settlement, having been erected in sets of three all along the Atlantic coast to guide European fishing fleets to safe harbour
  • predate Confederation having been built by a man who still resides in Cupids Cove.      

Sunday, July 21, 2019

A clear path to 2050

The Paris Agreement dealing with GHG emissions mitigation, ­adaptation, and finance, was signed by almost 200 countries in 2016.  Its goal is to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. (It is generally agreed that limiting the increase to 1.5 °C would substantially reduce the risks and effects of climate change, but temperature increases in parts of Canada’s north are already close to double that.)

Each country must determine, plan, and report on the contribution that it undertakes – generally in reducing the use of fossil fuels for transportation and electricity production. It has been proposed by the Green Party that Canada set a goal of eliminating the use of ­fossil fuels by 2050. Others have similar, less drastic, ideas, but no political party, industry or economic sector has laid out a clear path or timetable to achieve this.

And here’s an explanation of the first two lines of the haiku… Even though any comprehensive schedules for such massive, years-long undertakings will require constant adjustment and fine-tuning you have to start somewhere. The third line refers to clean transition bonds, a proposed new financing tool that would enable Canada’s energy and other carbon-intensive industries to finance emission reduction and leverage opportunities for process improvement and new product development.