Four Days In Dreams

I spent the long weekend at the end of August making art, playing music, and finding inspiration at a hand-crafted garden village in the woods north of my hometown. The Vale, as it’s properly called, is a community of artists living in cabins encircling a great hall designed specifically for performances of every variety; from painting, theater, and music, to poetry, brewing, and culinary arts.

The central hall started as a kitchen shack, and over time had evolved into a bonfire pit, an open dance floor, a covered dining area, and then a two-story art pavilion. Little alcoves full of chairs and couches can be found around the bottom floor, with the loft above serving as comfortable, well lit space to lay out canvasses and paints.

Upon arrival I set up my tent out near the cabin of a friendly shaman who offers to chase evil spirits off my shoulders with burning sage, finger-snaps, and magnets. Next to his cabin was an A-frame in which a dancer lived in his own recording studio; opposite him on the other end of the field an actor/playwright lived in a yurt next to the impressive vegetable farm he’d been keeping.

I brought apples from my tree at home to offer up for making pies and crisps, my ukulele, a batch of colored pencils, and several half-filled sketchbooks of varying age and use.

Once I had a place to dump my corpse after midnight, I went directly to the pavilion to see who had arrived and to pick out a deep chair to spend the days ahead working from.

The days were brutally hot. Once the sun hit my tent, it became an oven and there was no way to hang on to sleep. Instead I’d burst out and stumble to the far side of the hall to find coffee and other sleepy artists lounging around one of the several outdoor tables. Once the sun had reached that side of the building, it was our cue to return indoors and get back to our projects.

The nights were cooler and carried a different energy. Performers hit the stage, followed by dancing, childhood games, and the excitement of touring the works of everyone there kept us moving and stretching at intervals.

Like surfers standing in the tide, we would ride the waves that came to us, then come back to shore for food and conversation and visits to the lake. Riding the crest was being fully locked into your work; in the “zone” with work pouring out continuously. Sometimes I’d see the musical wave pass by with other surfers on it and want to switch over mid-stream, and sometimes I would. Mostly, though, I was deeply into finding the rhythm of coming in and going out with explorations in my sketchbook.

Jam 8

I’d go to bed just as the glow of the sun crawling up the horizon so I could get at least a couple of hours of cool darkness to dream in. I wasn’t the last to bed, though. Outdoors, a gathering of roasted, toasted writers, poets, dancers, musicians, actors, and acrobats would blather about whatever absurdities came to mind, and upstairs, steady-handed painters would stay hard at it until they could trade in their lamps for daylight.

After a dark winter and a dull Summer, it was exactly what I needed to remind myself of what good there is gathering, in meeting new people, and in riding the waves of inspiration. Nothing keeps you sharper than joining with others in the same pursuit.

I made some new connections in the cities nearby, and caught the sound of the festival train moving steadily onward through the winter. I’m hoping I can make it over to Cumberland for the Woodstove festival, and whatever comes after that wherever it lands.

The whole experience makes me want to reshape my big house and yard into a place where artists and musicians can come and play. Ever since strolling through the streets of Portland Oregon on holiday and seeing all these old houses turned into quasi-formal lounges, I’d wanted to build such a space – but until now I thought it was impossible. Things have changed, and I’m looking at my Autumn projects with a different eye.

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I’ve had the pleasure of hanging around Jill and Chris’ garden a few times this Spring and Summer while they prepare to leave the hemisphere. Gracious hosts that they are, food is always provided straight out of the garden into home-made pottery.

blueberries 2



Edible, but not yet delicious.

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Art: Virtual Plein Air

I’d been to Oregon a couple of Summers ago and loved every inch of the place (and I know I barely scratched the surface). While there, we stopped in at all sorts truly wonderful places – but right at the tip-top of the list for jaw dropping grandeur was Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach. I knew I’d be painting that stone monument before long, and I was right.

This, however, is not a painting from that trip.

No. This is a painting I produced as part of a sketchbook group exercise on Facebook. The group was called “Virtual Plein Air” and the objective was to drive Google street view to any random spot on earth, park, and paint what you found as though you were really standing there. It was a fascinating idea. I had to try it.

The majority of the group were digital artists from all over the world, so the whole concept of the exercise sounded like the kind of thing that would be pure science-fiction to anyone from before the 90s – or possibly witchcraft to anyone before that. I mean, go find ANY view on earth picked up by robot cameras, then paint it using a pen-board onto a machine that will share it to a group of other people spread around the globe. Instantly.

Try explaining that to Turner, or Monet.

I chose Haystack Rock as my subject because of how impressive it was standing over me in person, and because I hadn’t gotten around to painting it from my own source photography yet. I’m sure I’ll do that eventually, but in the mean-time Google Street View would be my muse.

Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach - Oregon

Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach – Oregon

And here’s the B-Side:

Why a B-Side?

Because I like spending hours on stupid jokes. Also – I love the goonies, which was filmed in nearby Astoria (along with Short Circuit and a few others). Part of the road-trip that took me to Oregon was spent exploring the film sets and backdrops where these rad childhood favourites were filmed. I guess while I was in that frame of mind, I decided to watch the Goonies again, and this was the result.

Heyyyy you guyyyysss

Heyyyy you guyyyysss

And now for the cherry on this slice of cake. I would call this song a guilty pleasure, but I don’t have those.

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Art: Saturday Night Sasquatch

I love Base Camp. It’s my favourite coffee shop, and it’s right here in my own town – a half-hour hike away through the woods behind my place.

Right in the middle of Powell River’s marine drive, Base Camp is a cafe built from scratch by artists out of metallic sculpture and hand-milled wood. It’s like a functioning art installation you can hang out, drink coffee, and eat food in.

Living up to its name, Base Camp has quickly become the watering hole for the huge pack of artists, film-makers, musicians, and lefty politicians roaming about town. Any time I’m there it’s full of cool people drawing up big plans for fun things.

Oh, and did I say anything about how good the coffee is?


The coffee is good. It’s very good, in fact. What they serve there is among the best stuff I’ve tasted, and it’s roasted right here in town by 32 Lakes. Being a wandering caffeine junkie has never been so good.

Water colour sasquatch by Megan Hildebrand.

Water colour sasquatch by Meghan Hildebrand.

After spending a profitable afternoon writing at Magpies, I’d gotten an invite to wander down to Base Camp and meet a couple of other artists for a Saturday Night sketchbook jam. It’s supposed to be a weekly event, and I definitely plan on being a regular after my first night there.

I joined Meghan Hildebrand, Kelsey McMillan, and Jesse RG  at a big shared table – each of us bringing some wildly different sensibilities to the mix. After a few minutes of tapping my pencil on my head trying to think of something to draw, I decided to make mine a sasquatch – a viking sasquatch to be precise – and because the sasquatch is the sort of official mascot of Base Camp, we all decided to make our own.

Jesse's Sasquatch

Jesse’s Sasquatch

After we finished we all put our work up on instagram and used the hashtag #saturdaynightsasquatch. I really hope that becomes the name and hashtag of our weekly art jam. In fact, I’m going to demand it.

My Viking Sasquatch

My Viking Sasquatch

I can’t wait to see who shows up next week, and what we end up creating. Stay tuned…

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Intolerable Wanderlust

I’m a writer and a painter by trade, and though I’m often just making it up off the top of my head for fun and profit, working from the things I see around me is a much needed grounding experience. It’s the pleasurable study of the present – which I sometimes forget to enjoy. It keeps my feet on solid earth when I’ve had too much time kicking around the backcountry of my own head, and it keeps motivation and inspiration continually flowing. Without the inspiration that comes with travel, I stagnate terribly.

Working from the inspiration I pick up on the road feels as though it gives my memory extra layers, and lets me spend a little more time with my best hours before they go back on the shelf.

If I could have my way right now, I’d happily throw my painting gear in the back of an air-stream or some other kind of humble caravan and roam about the pacific northwest, picking up stories to write and landscapes to paint. I’d publish this stuff immediately for the world to see as I make it, then pick up stakes and find some other horizon to chase.

That sounds like the dream, right there. Wander by day, write and paint by night.

For now, I’ll have to satisfy my thirst for travel by combing through my back-catalogue and producing works based on previous adventures. I’ll have to get out there again soon, because believe me, the roads are calling me like sirens. I’ve been in one place for far too long – longer than any other time before – and it’s honestly starting to kill me.

My plan is to be some wandering amalgam of George Bellows and Ernest Hemingway – recording every day scenery in the cities, the hills, and on the sea as words and pictures both. That’s the plan anyway. Until then, I’ve got to suffer with this intolerable wanderlust until I’m back on my feet again.

The road ahead waits.

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Art: The Wreck of the Peter Iredale

The Graveyard of the Pacific – a region of turbulent, unpredictable ocean in the Pacific Northwest ranging between Tilamook Bay down in Oregon up to Cape Scott on Vancouver Island. It’s a dangerous, but beautiful place. It’s reputedly the last resting place of thousands of ships going back to the days of the fur trade.

Here in Powell River on the Salish Sea, we form part of the middle of the graveyard. Growing up here, sailing, fishing, and old shipwrecks are just part of the cultural DNA. One of our major landmarks here in town is a string of ruinous old war-ships tethered together in the form of a breakwater off the front of the mill. Having grown up around these hulking naval monuments, I’ve always been eager to see more. My sketchbooks are littered with them.

The Wreck of the Peter Iredale

The Wreck of the Peter Iredale

The Graveyard of the Pacific is reputedly packed with shipwrecks, but few of them are as accessible as the Peter Iredale, and since our holiday on the road happened to pass right by there on the way to Astoria, it was something we had to stop in to see for ourselves.

Once again I planted myself in the sand with my sketchbook and did a quick outline of it’s gaping, rusty hull. From certain angles, it looked like the skeleton of a beached sea monster – all serrated teeth and monumental ribs. I look forward to seeing it again some day.

Quick and scratchy from my sketchbook.

Quick and scratchy from my sketchbook.

Named for the owner of the ship and it’s fleet, the Peter Iredale took it’s last voyage from Salina Cruz, Mexico headed north to Portland with 1,000 tons of ballast and a crew of 27. It was wrecked on Clatsop Spit in 1906 during high seas and strong winds. After the naval court in Astoria discharged the ship’s captain and crew of any responsibility, the ship was sold for scrap, leaving it stripped of all of it’s valuable parts.

Captain Lawrence’s final toast to his ship was “May God bless you, and may your bones bleach in the sands”.

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Adventure: Trail Running 03

I did it. I actually did it. Yesterday I grabbed my bokken and ran out into the forest for a workout that ran the gamut of trailrunning, yoga, and kenjutsu – or in other words: I did the FULL JEDI.

I knew this kind of ridiculous excess would eventually happen after I had put the pieces together in my last post. As a nerd, this was inevitable. Next on my personal agenda is learning how to make stones float while doing a one armed hand-stand while balancing a really small old guy on my foot. Preferably green.


Silly geek stuff aside, it was actually a great workout, and I’ll tell you right now I broke more sweat doing the yoga and kenjutsu components then I did in the running.

Don’t underestimate that controlled muscle movement stuff. It’s intense.

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