Category Archives: Plein Air Painting

Natural Capital – This Must Be The Place

Sketchbook Journal - Grace Pondering

Sketchbook Journal

The forests, mountains and lakes that surround me are a healing place. I’ve been pondering the idea of Natural Capital and my relationship to the land. According to  Dr. David Suzuki, whom I admire not only for his science, but for his way of living, his dedication to family, the planet and Haida Gwaii :

“Natural capital refers to the planet’s stocks of water, land, air, and renewable and non-renewable resources (such as plant and animal species, forests, and minerals). The term natural capital implies an extension of the economic notion of capital. Just as all forms of capital are capable of providing a flow of goods and services, components of natural capital interact to provide humans and other species with goods and services that are wide-ranging and diverse. The collective benefits provided by the resources and processes supplied by natural capital are known as ecosystem goods and services, or simply ecosystem services. These services are imperative for survival and well-being. They are also the basis for all economic activity.” 

I’ve been thinking about my individual natural capital – my time on this planet, how I use it and what I do with it. How I find ways not to tax my body and spirit and still give generously of what and who I am without destroying essence or making myself sick. Life-changing events such as cancer, good fortune, bad fortune …all have a way of causing you to examine what is precious to you.

The answer for me is in truly living each moment without fear of the past or present, with my loved ones by my side.

I believe that it’s beginning to reflect in my work, and I’ve had a renewed pleasure in painting little plein-air pieces as we camp and travel which I’ll share with you here.

Family Time At The Siksika Pow Wow

Family Time At The Siksika Pow Wow

The seasons have turned. My season has turned. I’ve had an interesting summer, taxed by radiation treatments and recovery time and peppered with some wonderful quiet camping opportunities with the family. I’m still in the recovery time and will be for a few months yet, but I can feel a change in my mood the same way that I can feel the crisp fall air freshening. I’m conscious of how I spend my own emotional and physical capital.

"Waiparous Starry Night" ©2013 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen panel. 6"x8"

“Waiparous Starry Night” ©2013 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen panel. 6″x8″

Time is a funny thing – it’s really the only thing that we have that is so limited, and I’ve come to appreciate even more, the time I have on this earth. Every moment is precious to me. My arm and shoulder are suffering from the trauma of the past 9 months of treatments and surgery and I have to take it very slowly and easily. It’s the most difficult thing that I’ve ever had to deal with in my life.

I’m learning to compromise and in that process, have found a new joy in painting and sketching whatever is in front of me. I’m keeping a sketch journal filled with little moments in my day. Getting back to small gestural drawings is one of the most joyful experiences I can describe….and a huge opportunity to think, observe and hone my skills. I’ve been super-inspired by James Gurney and his informative blog postings at Gurney Journey. What a generous man and artist, to share in so many ways, his skills, insight and humour. If you subscribe to any artist’s blog, it should be with James. In the coming weeks, I’m going to give casein paint a try in the field, spurred by James’ wonderful onsite illustrations. In Canada, I’ve been able to order some online from Curry’s Art Store.

"This Must Be The Place - Foothills of the Livingstone Range" ©2013 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen panel. 8"x10"

“This Must Be The Place – Foothills of the Livingstone Range” ©2013 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen panel. 8″x10″

I appreciate the land. I appreciate myself and my family more – and I didn’t think that was possible, because I sure love them! I appreciate the very short time we have, and am becoming more wise with the use of my own natural capital.

Yes….this must be the place.


THIS MUST BE THE PLACE – Lyrics/Music by The Talking Heads

Home is where I want to be
Pick me up and turn me round
I feel numb – burn with a weak heart
(so i) guess i must be having fun
The less we say about it the better
Make it up as we go along
Feet on the ground
Head in the sky
It’s ok i know nothing’s wrong . . nothingHi yo i got plenty of time
Hi yoyou got light in your eyes
And you’re standing here beside me
I love the passing of time
Never for money
Always for love
Cover up + say goodnight . . . say goodnightHome – is where i want to be
But i guess i’m already there
I come home – -she lifted up her wings
Guess that this must be the place
I can’t tell one from another
Did i find you, or you find me?
There was a time before we were born
If someone asks, this where i’ll be . . . where i’ll beHi yo we drift in and out
Hi yo sing into my mouth
Out of all tose kinds of people
You got a face with a view
I’m just an animal looking for a home
Share the same space for a minute or two
And you love me till my heart stops
Love me till i’m dead
Eyes that light up, eyes look through you
Cover up the blank spots
Hit me on the head ah ooh

The Artist’s Window -Creating Onsite vs.The Studio.

"Window - Near Marco Island" - ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen. 6"x8"

“Window – Near Marco Island” – ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen. 6″x8″

The Site

There is a big difference in working on site, with all of the sensory input of the moment. Sound, light, colour, smells…they all ADD to the moment of rapture when creating the work, and for me as an artist, there is nothing quite like that pure energy of creating the “feeling” of what you have in that one moment and place.

This painting, a small 6″x8″ work, was done alla prima, plein air on a secluded location near Marco Island in Gwaii Haanas. Nothing that I do to it can ever convey the moment – the smells, the calls of the birds, the feel of the mossy ground upon which I sat or the small black and yellow caterpillar that I remember crawled across the root of the tree where I sat.

For me, this painting will always contain all of those sensory experiences. Even the sense of urgency that I would need in order to get the painting done in a timely manner to join my travel companions – these are all the things contained within this painting.

Sadly, we can’t always be in all those places for the length of time that we desire. This was the case in Gwaii Haanas. There was so much to see, and I could have spent years just in one place on Haida Gwaii creating and painting what I felt, what moved me – the sights, the sounds and the spiritual supernatural that is ever-present.

For completing this work, the studio is the best way to be able to continue to convey the feeling, the spirit and sense of the time spent in that place. As artists, this is our task, and it’s not always an easy one.

"Into The Woods - Bag Harbour" ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen panel. 11"x14"

“Into The Woods – Bag Harbour” ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen panel. 11″x14″

The Studio

This piece is a different “window” for me. It is the first piece that I created offsite from Haida Gwaii, and in the controlled space of the studio – a comfy chair, a bathroom, a hot cup of coffee in my hand and all the time in the world.

With decent photographic reference, I’m still not able to get a clear idea of the full colour range afforded by the jungle of Bag Harbour, or the life, the energy or the timeless urgency of the place. Having been there, I’m connected to the time that I had there, but the time it takes to snap a photo vs. sitting on the ground, feeling the energy, observing the colours for an hour or more and creating a work onsite are never the same.

It’s still full of memories for me, and hopefully, I can open this window in my studio and let those feelings all spill into the painting.

I have a question…okay….maybe I have three questions:

As an artist, do you prefer the studio or painting onsite? Why? What are the merits of both?

Gwaii Haanas – The Need for a New Line at Lyell

"Sedgwick Camp - Gwaii Haanas" ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on panel. 6"x8"

“Sedgwick Camp – Gwaii Haanas” ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on panel. 6″x8″

Wow…what can I even begin to say and share with you regarding my recent trip to Haida Gwaii and the residency in Gwaii Haanas National Park, Marine Reserve and Haida Heritage Site? I’ll start just by sharing some works I created onsite in Gwaii Haanas and some thoughts about current context.

You have to understand the remoteness of this place. It’s a 20 hour, two day FULL drive from Canmore, AB – first on the Icefields Parkway to Jasper and then through the winding Yellowhead Highway country, though Prince George, along the banks of the Fraser and Skeena River systems, through the Pacific Coastal Mountains to the Port of Prince Rupert.

From there, it’s a 7 hour ferry ride, just to get to the island of Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands) and just in view of the shores of Alaska from it’s northern coast. And that’s just the first part of the journey! Epic in itself, just to get to Haida Gwaii.

From there, our group of five departed from Skidegate, another ferry ride from Skidegate to Alliford Bay and then through an hour and a half of potholed logging roads that you could swallow your truck, and humping gear over an “outed” bridge to the marine departure point at Deer Bay, Moresby Camp. Not a journey for the faint of heart!

Departing Moresby Camp, it was an hour long trip by boat on the trusty BC forestry services boat, the “Adelita” to our floating camp at the Bischof Islands in Gwaii Haanas. These waters are the fourth most dangerous in the world. Enough said, I suppose…

Using the Bischof Islands as our base, we headed out to many different locations in Gwaii Haanas. I created several works onsite where time and equipment landing would permit. I also worked on the boat, in watercolour creating sketches as we travelled the long distances between points. I’ll share those in a later posting with you.

The only communications in this area is by marine radio or satellite phone, both of which are sketchy at the best of times. When not sketching or painting, I spent a great deal of time in visual observation and in photography. There is never enough lifetimes to begin to paint what I have seen or experienced, but here is a short “bite” for those who are so eager to see what I did when I was there.



Athlii Gwaii – Sedgwick Bay Camp

Sedgewick Camp - Athlii Gwaii, Gwaii Haanas (Lyell Island)

Sedgewick Camp – Athlii Gwaii, Gwaii Haanas (Lyell Island)

This painting was done onsite at Sedgwick Bay, Athlii Gwaii (Lyell Island) where in  the autumn of 1985, a group of Haida elders travelled by helicopter  to engage in one of the first direct action efforts of first nations across the land. Conflicting interests that pit first nations against industrial development reached a boiling point. The Haida Elders created a line between the ancient rainforests and old growth cedar and spruce and the forestry companies that held timber licenses. Four Elders stood on the line at Lyell. Please see the clip below of excerpts from Urban Rez’s production of “Athlii Gwaii – The Line at Lyell”, exclusive footage from that time features touching interviews with elders; Ada Yovanovich and Adolphus Marks. Contemporary interviews were conducted with the Elders Ethel Jones and Watson Pryce in 2002. They shared their memories of that trying time. Sadly all four Elders have passed on but their act of selfless devotion to their beloved Haida Gwaii should be an inspiration to us all.

Visiting this place was a great inspiration for me. I would say it was one of the most stirring and inspiring moments of my visit. It was pouring down buckets that day, but I could hear the Elders and the protestors, firm in their convictions and in their hearts. Their spirits were all around me. There was even an old Chinese Checkers game still left in the main cabin. I sat in the doorway for a very long time, imagining what it might have been like for them all, to make a stand, bind together and speak out for what was right, not just for themselves, but for everyone.

I am grateful that the Haida Nation, these Elders and young warrior members stood so firmly to protect this place. We should do the same now, as the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project by Enbridge threatens once again, this magnificent culture and ecosystem in which we are all so interconnected. Stand up and speak out about the effects that this pipeline will have on habitat, culture and the ecology of our planet. Write your MP and the  official opposition. If you are international, write your own governments and let them know that this is an issue for all people.

Make yourself heard…and be part of the new “Line”. Do the right thing.


Spring Painting in Kananaskis – Moose Mountain

"Moose Mountain - April" ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen. 8"x10"

"Moose Mountain - April" ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen. 8"x10"

I’m thrilled that spring is (almost) here in the mountains. It makes for a better experience when outdoor painting.

Don’t get me wrong – I love Canadian winters and the cold weather, but I’m very happy when the weather isn’t -30 and the wind isn’t freezing my paint and my hands. Today, I had the chance to get out to Kananaskis Country and hang out at the log shelter for the Jumping Pound Demonstration Forest. Usually there’s no one else but me there, but I was joined by a lovely Swiss family from Cochrane today. As I was finishing the painting, they arrived and had a lovely picnic BBQ and even asked me to join. What a lovely day – something I’ll always remember when I look at this piece.

Here was my setup and painting location. Go ahead…..drool!

Moose Mountain plein air painting location - Janice Tanton, Kananaskis Country

Moose Mountain plein air painting location with Janice Tanton, Kananaskis Country, AB.