Sunday, December 31, 2023

2023 Year-end Review

Maroon Bells*
watercolour, crayon and Photoshop™
©2023 Charlene Brown

In my August 27blog post, after exactly a year of not writing anything on my blog, I wrote, “At this point I’m going to pick up where I left off on the unfinished projects in my 'Plan for 1150 Words in 2022' as if it had been written in January 2023.”

Here’s how that worked out:

Graphic Novel:  I have stylized some of my representational landscapes to use as backgrounds for the book’s illustrations, added people and conversation ‘balloons’ to these stylized backgrounds, and published ‘By-election in Exceptional Pass’ in mid-November.

Paint Every Mountain: I have almost finished a small book about hiking and painting in mountains all over the world, working with what I have found to be the only truly portable plein air ‘painting’ kit, a bag of crayons. The above painting of Maroon Bells will be included in the section of the book on specific colours.

Creative Archaeology:  I have continued to build the series ‘Time Travel with a Bag of Crayons’ equipped with the same plein air painting kit I used for ‘Paint Every Mountain.’  The series, now in chronological order, will include some of the photos and sketches I produced during past archaeology-related travel with the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and the University of Victoria travel study program.

Predictive Analytics: I have painted several illustrations of the climate effects of the Anthropocene.  Some are straight-up landscapes and others are interpretations/extrapolations of data relating to Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions.

*Maroon Bells: According to the U.S. Forest Service, these Colorado mountains received their distinctive maroon coloring from the weathering of hematite. I don’t recall that they were particularly maroon-looking.  In fact they were kind of liver-coloured until I applied some mauve crayon.

Friday, December 29, 2023

Two more shades of orange

 Midwinter afternoon in Pangnirtung
watercolour and crayon
©2023 Charlene Brown

 Situated in the shadows of a steep-walled fjord just south of the Arctic Circle, Pangnirtung doesn’t get a lot of sun during the winter months. The street lights are on most of the day. (I’ve relied on several internet photos to help me guess at the patterns and shades of orange for this painting, as I have only seen Pangnirtung in the late summer when it was still light most of the night).

The site is said to have been occupied regularly by nomadic hunter-gatherers for almost 4000 years. But life in the Arctic changed significantly in the early 1960s when Inuit were placed, often forcibly, in permanent settlements by the Canadian government.

Even though they then had access to schools, hospitals and social services, the move was controversial. In an attempt to ameliorate the negative effects of relocations and to create an economic base, the government funded arts and crafts initiatives across the Arctic. One of these was the hand-weaving cooperative where ‘Pangnirtung tapestries’ are now produced.  The Tapestry Studio of the Uqqurmiut Centre for Arts and Crafts was just getting underway at the time of my painting trip to Pangnirtung (then still part of the Northwest Territories) in August-September of 1990.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Crossroads of trade in the Yucatan

El Castillo at Tulum
watercolour and crayon
©2023 Charlene Brown

I will include this recently completed painting in the book, ‘Time Travel with a bag of crayons’ that I am compiling.

The main pyramid-castle at Tulum, shown here, is spectacularly situated on 12-metre cliffs looking east over the Caribbean. One of the few Mayan sites with a fortified wall, Tulum was the only one on the coast and thus controlled trade with South and Central America.  Because of its economic importance, it was one of the few cities that was still populated when the Spaniards arrived.

 There are two kinds of painting trips – those involving some hiking or even climbing, where you carry all your stuff and paint on location, and those where you stay in one place long enough to spread out and do a ‘proper job,’ letting the paint dry between layers and other refinements. 

The hike around the entire Tulum archaeological site can be completed in under an hour, but took my daughters and me close to two hours because I started a crayon sketch every time I found a shady place to sit down.  Here are two pictures that I completed after returning to Canada.

North side of El Castillo, from the base of the cliff
watercolour and crayon
©2010 Charlene Brown

Mayan sunrise (sun symbol copied from another building)
watercolour, crayon and Photoshop
©2010 Charlene Brown

Monday, December 25, 2023

Hand-painted Christmas Card: Take 2

Christmas in Canmore, the jpeg
watercolour, crayon and computer
©2023 Charlene Brown

On some of the hand-painted Christmas cards I wrote about in a blog post a couple of weeks ago, I tried the loose crayon and watercolour technique I often use for larger paintings.  These crayoned cards, including Christmas in Canmore, were among the ‘unacceptable’ ones I mentioned at the time.

I think I’ve salvaged this one by using another technique of which I am quite fond – Photoshopping it within an inch of its life!

The background, should you be wondering, includes some of the peaks on the southern flank of Mt. Rundle.

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Another possibility for reducing food insecurity

The Mediterranean Diet
watercolour, crayon and computer
©2023 Charlene Brown

The increasingly-drastic impacts of climate change are already showing up in very different ways ranging from floods and rising water levels to droughts and wildfire.  What is common to all these conditions is the increased likelihood of food insecurity. 

Like the ‘adventures in agriculture’ I wrote about, the food required for a ‘Mediterranean diet’ can be produced by more sustainable farming methods than other more meat-intensive diets, thus mitigating food insecurity. 

In addition to its more widely-known reputation as a healthy diet for individuals, the Mediterranean diet has been shown to have a lower environmental impact (smaller per capita carbon and water footprints) making it healthier for the planet. 


Thursday, December 21, 2023

Tangential Adventures in Agriculture III

Seaweed at Work
watercolour and crayon
©2023 Charlene Brown

Regenerative ocean farming is a climate-friendly model of aquaculture where seaweeds and/or shellfish are grown in a way that requires no freshwater, feed, or fertilizer.

Seaweed and shellfish can absorb excess nutrients, and help mitigate harmful algal blooms, deoxygenated dead zones, and local ocean acidification. In addition, seaweed has been found to produce 70% more oxygen than land plants and, most importantly from the standpoint of climate change mitigation, absorbs carbon even more effectively than trees. 

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Tangential Adventures in Agriculture II

Food Forest
watercolour and crayon
©2023 Charlene Brown

 Wikipedia defines a food forest, also called a forest garden, as a diverse planting of edible plants that attempts to mimic the ecosystems and patterns found in nature. Food forests are three-dimensional designs, with life extending in all directions – up, down, and out.

Interestingly, there is no mention of a fungal layer in this definition, but we’ll just assume it can be fitted into the layer 5 defined in Permaculture: A Beginners Guide by Graham Burnett, which contains this diagram:

Last year, I wrote about another climate change mitigation possibility, Agroforestry  This program has the double objective of food production and restoration of the a deforested land’s vital carbon sequestration capability. 



Sunday, December 17, 2023

Tangential Adventures in Agriculture I

Fungi at work
watercolour, crayon and computer
©2023 Charlene Brown

Mycoforestry is the strategy of using fungi to improve soil and forest health. The benefits are delivered through the mycelium, the underground network of thin fungal threads that share nutrients to help saplings take root and ward off disease.

This painting illustrates the first of three ‘tangential adventures in agriculture’ involving sustainable farming methods which mimic nature, with minimal additional inputs of water, feed and fertilizer.  Such solutions may have to be developed to overcome or adapt to the ongoing and future effects of climate change on food production. 

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Hand-painted Christmas cards!

Trial Runs
©2023 Charlene Brown

In September I decided, with a burst of enthusiasm, to paint individual Christmas cards this year. After a month I had produced a total of six acceptable cards.

Five of the six are shown above, arranged in front of what will pass for a Christmas display on my dining room sideboard.  (Top row, L to R) Mount Cascade from Johnson Lake, Lake Minnewanka, Castle Mountain, (front row, L to R) Moraine Lake, and Mount Rundle all in Banff National Park.

We actually have more than six friends, so I admitted defeat, selected the sixth one (below), to be printed on card stock for the folks who don’t have computers and added to the email greetings for those who do.

 Lake Louise
©2023 Charlene Brown


Sunday, December 3, 2023

50 Shades of Orange

Bow Valley Sunrise
Watercolour and crayon
©2023 Charlene Brown 

As I’ve said before, there are many ways to use white crayons in watercolour paintings.  I’m also going to talk a lot about using neon orange in ‘Paint Every Mountain’ − the book I’m putting together about hiking and painting in mountains all over the world.

This deceptively warm-looking winter sunrise is one of my favourite examples of orange crayon effects.  In the coming weeks I’ll write about others, such as back-lit flowers, iron oxide or glints of iron in rocks or soil, manufactured items like clothing and, of course, fall colours (especially larch).  I’ll also be including in my book odd effects like I wrote about in this 2014 blog post 

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Just off the Icefields Parkway

 Mistaya Canyon
Watercolour and crayon
©2023 Charlene Brown

 The trailhead for this spectacular canyon is on the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) just south of Saskatchewan Crossing, and the walk in from the highway is only about half a kilometer.  But, oddly enough, almost everyone drives right by  ̶  at or over the posted 70 kph speed limit. 

This stretch of the river is referred to as a ‘deep slot’ canyon, and I should admit that you can’t get this clear a view of the turbulent water… so I’ve combined what can be seen from a couple of viewpoints looking southwest toward Mt. Sarbach.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

White: the Essential Crayon

Mt. Assiniboine
Watercolour and crayon
©2023 Charlene Brown


In a blog post on September 17, I mentioned watercolour painting en plein air when the plein air is too cold to do much of anything with actual water. My solution to this problem is to do the outdoor ‘painting’ with a white crayon, and finish the picture is some nice warm place. Here is another one of the paintings I’ll put in the 'white crayon' part of ‘Paint Every Mountain’ − the book I’m putting together about hiking and painting in mountains. And here are some more examples.

Evening in Banff
Watercolour and crayon
©2023 Charlene Brown

Tamarack Glen, Bugaboo Provincial Park, British Columbia
Watercolour and crayon
©2012 Charlene Brown

Evening in Whistler Village
Watercolour and crayon
©2010 Charlene Brown

Kananaskis Country
Watercolour and crayon
©2020 Charlene Brown

Cape Dorset, Nunavut
Watercolour and crayon
©2009 Charlene Brown

Sunday, November 12, 2023

COP27 was not a total failure

Al Sahaba Mosque of Sharm el-Sheikh
©2022 Charlene Brown

The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference or Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC, COP27, was the 27th United Nations Climate Change conference.  It was held in November of last year in Sharm El Sheikh, on the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula in Egypt.

No new targets for carbon emissions reduction were established, as COP27 was overshadowed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  The war had strained pipeline supplies of gas, which meant that oil and gas-producing nations became more influential at COP27, undermining the negotiations. World leaders preoccupied with spiraling energy prices were reluctant to act boldly on fossil fuels.

COP27 was expected to promote climate justice as Africa is the continent most affected but least responsible for the climate crisis. Negotiations for a fund that would compensate developing countries for the loss and damage caused by climate change dominated the negotiations.

Almost two days after the negotiation deadline, member states agreed to establish such a fund – a win for developing countries.  However, there was no agreement about who would pay or who would control and manage the money. This remains to be negotiated at COP28, to be held next month in Dubai, UAE.

What is COP28?




Sunday, November 5, 2023

The secret ending

(Click on image to enlarge)

Background illustrations for ‘By-election in Exceptional Pass’
Watercolour and crayon
©2023 Charlene Brown

Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about a picture that I’d removed from the graphic novel I’ve written, so I could shorten the book and clear the last page for publishing information.  I mentioned at the time that this would also get the ending in off the outside back cover. 

Just so you’ll know, here’s what the illustrations on the (now) inside back cover look like.  I’ve left out the writing that will go on them, of course, in order not to reveal the surprise ending.

Can anyone identify this? It's as Fatsia japonica or Japanese Aralia

Friday, November 3, 2023

A Summer Job Like No Other - Part II

 The patio at Alestine’s on the hottest day in the history of Inuvik: there are two more tables inside and a few more on the roof

Watercolour and crayon
©2023 Charlene Brown

This painting is based on (and resembles closely) a photo taken by Rachel Hogg, writer of the blog from which the following was excerpted.

"I appreciate everything below the 69th parallel so much more now. Like vegetables. And Vancouver grocery stores. It’s crazy that we just go into stores and get any type of produce we could dream of in the south.  What sort of store has cucumbers often enough that you’d learn to expect them? Only awesome stores that I will do my best not to take for granted after this trip.

"We discovered the awesome side of Inuvik when we went to Alestine’s. It’s a restaurant run by Alice and her husband out of their front lawn, where they have an old school bus that has been converted into a kitchen. She is such a warm and welcoming lady and her spot had the funkiest decor. This is a place that would not likely fly in a big city, but she’s made it a lovely space for both locals and tourists. We had dinner at a picnic table, where 10 minutes after being seated, Alice came by and said: We’re all full so you’re getting company.

"We ended up having a lovely dinner at our picnic table with a couple who are camping around the territories and Alaska for the summer. They’re from Vancouver and one is a genetic counsellor. She was dumbfounded when I told her that my mom was a genetic counsellor too. Out of the 400 genetic counsellors in all of Canada, what are the odds that I’d meet another one up in the middle of nowhere in the Arctic?"

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

A Summer Job Like No Other Part I

A Jobsite with a View
Watercolour and Photoshop™
©2023 Charlene Brown

This painting is based on a photo by Rachel Hogg showing the view looking straight down from the top of a cell tower near Rainy River Ontario, after her tower inspection team was forced out of northern Alberta by wildfire smoke.

The following is excerpted from Rachel’s blog.

"This was a perfect day to illustrate the highs and lows of this job. Robin and I were in such good moods heading to the first site, and everything was funny.

This is when I think: God I love this job. This is literally the coolest way to spend my summer.

Then I climbed a 100-meter tower. There were quite a few places which needed new electrical tape or nuts that needed tightening, so it took longer than usual, about 2 hours to go up and down."

Note: There were several other pictures on Rachel’s post, having the following captions:

·  "If I have to suffer through these, you need to at least see a picture of one of the nasty buggers 

·  no idea what this one is

·  So many mosquitoes

·  Absolutely massive fuzzy hornet-looking thing that was at least 2 inches long that flew around me when I was 300 feet up – absolutely terrified me

I also don’t think I’ve sweated that much in ages. The last step in each inspection is re-tensioning the guy wires if the tension is outside of the allowable range. We have this spreadsheet which accounts for thermal expansion depending on ambient temperature, so we just plug in the outside temperature, see the adjusted allowable range, and crank the tension turnbuckle until it’s good. We had to adjust so many of the guy wires today, and it is no easy feat.  Both Robin and I have pipe wrenches, and are putting our entire body weight into it. It felt like being on a rowing machine, but for 2 full hours while being devoured by mosquitos. The biggest dilemma of today was: keep our jackets on to avoid becoming a walking bug bite? Or take them off to avoid becoming a walking pool of sweat? "


Sunday, October 29, 2023

The bear's on the phone!

Lake Minnewanka from the C-Level Cirque trail
Watercolour and crayon
©2022 Charlene Brown

I went up to Banff with my daughter and her family last year. She and I limited our hiking to the Bow Falls and the hot springs near the base of Sulphur Mountain, but her husband and one of their sons completed the rather more challenging C-Level Cirque trail. This 9.3-km out-and-back trail takes an average of 4 h 18 min to complete.

They were warned that there were bears in the area – but their only bear encounter was on their phone, which showed a motion-activated video feed from their cabin near Calgary.  They sent us this still from the video.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Editing my Graphic Novel – this whole page just got cut

MONDAY 12 AUGUST: By late morning, they have gathered up their remaining lawn signs, and fanned out around town.  Some have departed in cars for other parts of the constituency. Dan has just knocked on a door and been greeted by the resident St. Bernard.


Down Heidi, down, girl.  She’s just being friendly. Didn’t like the other candidates at all. Of course we’ll take a lawn sign!

This part of 'By-election in Exceptional Pass' was based on a real life experience I had back in the 1970s before fund raisers had the internet with which to bother people.  I had volunteered to go door-to-door asking for donations for Arthritis Research.  As I recall, all but two of the houses in the neighborhood I was assigned had dogs whose job it was to answer the door.  And at least half of these dogs were named Heidi.  My eldest daughter is named Heidi.  The conversations that followed my opening comments about this remarkable coincidence resulted in an amazing amount of money being handed to me for Arthritis Research. 

Because this page didn't really contribute anything to the storyline, when I decided to shorten the book by one page (in order to keep the last page free for publication info, barcode etc.) out it came.  This also eliminated the problem of giving away the ending by having it on the outside back cover!


Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Ancient Carbon-Neutral Engineering in Yazd

Neighbourhood in Old Yazd
Watercolour and crayon
©2017 Charlene Brown

According to Wikipedia, windtowers, or windcatchers, are traditional Persian architectural elements providing natural ventilation by catching the wind from any direction and directing it down into the building. Windcatchers can be found in traditional Persian-influenced architecture throughout the Middle East, including the Gulf Arab states, especially Dubai.  That is where I first saw them.

According to the World Bank, Dubai is one of the largest consumers of energy per capita in the world and in the summer months an estimated two thirds of that is used for air conditioning. There has been some hopeful theorizing that the windtower concept could be integrated into new buildings there and this might make a meaningful reduction in their “AC addiction.”

The Carbon Almanac was published in July of 2022.  Several hundred of us worked on this project (you’ll find me at the beginning of the eleventh row at Meet the people behind the Carbon Almanac.) 

Since the publication of the Carbon Almanac, I have received updates about the on-going world-wide campaign to avoid climate disaster by reducing carbon emissions in every way possible. The October 12 Carbon Almanac update quoted a story from the BBC program, Future Planet: The Ancient Persian way to keep cool, “From ancient Egypt to the Persian Empire, an ingenious method of catching the breeze kept people cool for millennia. In the search for emissions-free cooling, the "wind catcher" could once again come to our aid.”

The Future Planet story used the Iranian city of Yazd, as I did in the above story, excerpted from a blog post I wrote in June 2017 following a trip to Iran with the art travel program of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Almost as old as ─ and much more elaborate than ─ Petra

The Ajanta Caves are located about 350 kilometers NE of Mumbai in the Indian state of Maharashtra. The first phase of these partly rock-cut, partly built and sculpted caves was begun in the 2nd century BCE, about two hundred years after the similarly constructed ‘city’ of Petra in Jordan.  The second phase of Ajanta, filled with wall murals that are masterpieces of ancient Buddhist art, was completed about seven hundred years later, in the late 5th century CE.

The best time to visit is during the relatively cool period between October and March, although the lush green surroundings and waterfalls inside and outside the caves are wonderful to see during the June to September monsoon season.  Or so I’m told.

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Creative Archaeology: Time Traveling back to 3200 BCE

Ħaġar Qim
Watercolour and crayon
©2023 Charlene Brown

I plan to organize the chapters in the series ‘Time Travel with a bag of crayons’ in chronological order, so Ħaġar Qim, which dates from 3200 BCE, may be the first archaeological site in the book. Ħaġar Qim, meaning ‘standing stones’ is a megalithic temple complex located on a plateau near the south coast of Malta.

(Full disclosure) The tiny island of Filfla, seen off the coast, doesn’t line up with the ‘trefoil’ arrangement of the elongated oval chambers of the temple quite as picturesquely I’ve shown it. And the stone frieze of domestic animals anchoring the base of the painting was actually sketched in the Tarxien temple complex, about 10 km northeast of Ħaġar Qim, when my sister and I were there in 1999.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

National Day of Truth and Reconciliation


Yesterday, September 30, was Canada’s National Day of Truth and Reconciliation. The day honours the Survivors of residential schools and the children who never returned home as well as their families and communities.

It is sometimes called Orange Shirt Day, inspired by the story of a child whose personal clothing, including a new orange shirt, was taken from her during her first day at a residential school, and never given back.

I didn’t attend the ceremonies yesterday, so have instead posted this painting of the National Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations at Royal Roads University last June 21. The day’s schedule of events included a, welcome ceremony on the shore of the Esquimalt Lagoon, Lekwungen traditional dancing and singing, traditional canoe landing protocol led by a Songhees Nation Elder, walking tour of traditional ceremonial and healing plants along Colwood Creek with Elders from the Cowichan and Tsawout Nations. 

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Predictive Analytics: continuing a series emphasizing extrapolating, visualizing (and painting) unanticipated outcomes

Getting caught Greenwashing
Watercolour, crayon and Photoshop™
©2023 Charlene Brown

According to the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance (July 24, 2023), ‘greenwashing’ is about misrepresentation, misstatement and false or misleading practices in relation to environmental, social and governance (ESG) credentials.

Unfulfilled ESG promises lead to shareholder groups, such as university pension funds, divesting their holdings and to consumers switching brands and boycotting products.

This predictive data visualization is my interpretation of the rise, fall and rise again of stock value (orange line) and product sales (pink line) related to specific marketing events (identified by * in the painting) – a ‘green’ marketing campaign, getting caught ‘greenwashing’ a product or company policy, followed by honest damage control and policy change, over a six-year period. 


Sunday, September 17, 2023

Paint Every Mountain: compiling a small book about hiking and painting

Winter Sunrise at Lake Louise
Watercolour and crayons
©2023 Charlene Brown

The third of my ‘2022’ projects that I’ll be working on for the rest of 2023 is a small book about hiking and painting in mountains all over the world.

Part of the book will be devoted to winter watercolour painting en plein air when the plein air is too cold to do much of anything with actual water. Beginning with white (and, in this case, neon pink) crayons, then finishing the painting in some nice warm place, is the answer.

There will also be a section on achieving other effects with white crayons (and a cautionary tale about where you obtain your white crayons), as well as special uses for purple (my personal favourite), and ‘neon’ orange and green.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Creative Archaeology: continuing ‘Time Travel with a Bag of Crayons’

Antikythera mechanism

Watercolour, crayon, marker

©2023 Charlene Brown

An intricate mechanism, considered to be the world’s first analog computer dating from the first century BCE, was found in 1900 in a shipwreck near the island of Antikythera in Greece. The recovered fragments of what became known as the Antikythera Mechanism are in the National Archeological Museum in Athens. 

In 2019, I reassembled these fragments and overlaid the result on a sketch I made in 2007 at the Posidonius School in Rhodes. There are many theories as to who designed and built this ingenious mechanism. Our tour guide on a shore excursion from a Black Sea cruise was a firm believer in the hypothesis, based on x-ray computed tomography and notations about solar eclipses, that it did in fact originate at this location in Rhodes.

I recently updated the 2019 painting, after hearing about a more complex version of the Antikythera Mechanism appeared this year under a new name, The Dial of Destiny.   This surprisingly intact and polished machine, now credited to Archimedes, is newly capable of time travel and was found by Indiana Jones, of all people!

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Graphic Novel: completing ‘By-election in Exceptional Pass’

I have occasionally tried to add people to my landscape paintings, solving the problem of not being very good at it by placing them as far away as I decently could.

I had one of my grandsons, an art student at Concordia University at the time, draw the people for my first graphic novel, but he’s a professional artist now and doesn’t have the time (and I can’t afford him). And it’s taken weeks to summon up the nerve to add people to the graphic novel I’m writing now. 

Drawing on a smart phone screen by an engineering student on coop assignment as a cell tower inspector, to illustrate the inaccessible position of a tension meter on an anchor cable.  (The top of the 400’ tower was easier to get to than that meter.)

Finally, inspired by the above spontaneous drawing on my granddaughter’s blog, I decided to go for it.

I can hardly do anything but phone people on my smart phone, so I didn’t go so far as to try it there.  I used a full-size computer, guiding the Photoshop brush tool with a mouse, and have convinced myself that the resulting stick-people-wearing-clothes are appropriate for the stylized background paintings.

An illustration near the beginning of the graphic novel I’m writing