Stratford (ON, Canada) to me is a place bursting with creativity and whimsy—world class drama in a wonderful setting. The image is the footbridge to Tom Patterson Island, in the middle of the Avon River there. I have seen this place probably hundreds of times over the past decade.
My favourite time is early morning, especially when it’s foggy and the sun illuminates the mist as it rises from the river. The air is heavy with moisture, and silent—sounds are muffled except for the splashing and calling of the waterfowl echoing across the water. There is a powerful sense of solitude and even a feeling that one could be very close to the Otherworld. (Fittingly, willows in ancient lore are trees of enchantment, and swans in Celtic mythology are often the guardians of a druid’s island home—or humans who are under a spell.)
In my painting I wanted to capture both the look and the feel of that experience. To portray this in a painting, in practical terms, first I needed an on-site colour study (quickly, as it the light is very transient) — and cameras do not capture colours accurately. Secondly, I needed some sort of photo of the bridge (to have a reference of the ‘draftmanship’ sort, such as how many braces on the bridge and the angles of it. It is amazing how easy it is to forget those things when one sits down to paint in midwinter.).
The photo is rather uninspiring, but gave me all the shape data needed for the drawings; my colour study was really just a mishmash of layered pastel colours but provided the colour data. I knew that I‘d be painting this in a fairly intuitive way, sort of feeling my way along from one brushstroke to the next, and so did a small 6” x 8” study painting first in order to work out any hitches.
I evaluated that painting, determined some changes I wanted to try, then followed up with the larger 11” x 14” finished version. The lead swan in the final painting was designed to echo the shape of the bridge—and to rise up as if to meet the sun’s rays.
Across the Avon (oil on panel, 15"x11")
This is my usual working method—to get the mood and the feel of a subject; then to gather the various reference materials, and then to keep tweaking and fixing as I paint until I feel that the image communicates what I want it to say.