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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Flowers in my Books

Much of my recent sketchbook work has been done whilst out at the neighbourhood diner, or hanging out with friends at their house in the midst of pre-sale, pre-travel renovations (something you can read more about over here at Jill’s travel blog).

At least two of these drawing sessions took place in their epic gardenscape since the days have grown longer and warmer. Rather than turning inward, I tried to capture what I saw in front of me using a limited palette of coloured pencils.


The strange orange/blue/green frosting of unripe blueberries.

Instead of finding the specific colour I’m looking for, I dash straight at it with the building blocks of that colour; the primaries that build others. I don’t even think as I’m doing it. It’s autonomic.

I haven’t done much in the way of major paintings since diving into my sketchbooks, but I’m confident that my next painted work will carry the strengths I’ve discovered in this medium.


These are original works on large sketchbook paper, suitable for framing and display should the urge strike you to buy one. In lieu of that, if you enjoy reading my writes and seeing my scratchings, feel free to throw me a coin or two. My hat’s just over there.

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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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