A Gordon Henschel original painting.

A Brush with Henschel: Birds of a feather

The painting is a watercolour that I did in my studio using the oil sketch as my reference material.

One beautiful afternoon this spring, I got itchy feet accompanied by an itchy paintbrush. A short drive from home took me to one of my favourite haunts where I knew I could find sun and shelter from any of the sharp breezes that seem to come out of nowhere and disappear just as mysteriously. An added benefit to this spot is a wonderful estuary with a bird sanctuary thrown in for good measure. If you hadn’t guessed it by now the place is the campground at the mouth of the Cluxewe River about halfway between Port McNeill and the Port Alice turnoff.

Cluxewe Resort is owned and operated by the First Nations people of Fort Rupert. Over the last decade they have upgraded and improved this site until it has become one of the most popular campsites on North Island, not only with tourists but also with locals, many of whom reserve a spot here for the entire summer season. A bustling hive of activity in the summer, it is a wonderfully quiet and peaceful retreat off-season, where you can enjoy a two kilometre walk through the park and along the spit that divides the river from the sea. All the while you will be entertained by a variety of seabirds, most magnificent of being the Trumpeter Swans.

On this day I was met at the gate by a young First Nations man who was caretaker for the day. The gate allows the park to be monitored to guard against those who would do the park and its wildlife harm. I drove my car to the farthest campsite, did a walkabout to look for a good composition as well as shelter from the breeze that was coming down Broughton Strait, set up my easel, squeezed some oils on to my palette and began to lay in the first base colours. I was doing an 8 x 10 inch oil sketch that would enable me to come away with not just a reasonable facsimile of the scene before me, but more so, a feel for the place using colours that make this possible: this time cool blues and greens against warm reds and ochres. A low sunset was slowly developing behind the trees on the far shore. Great!!

The caretaker had rowed his boat down the shoreline, pulled it up on shore and watched me for a time until the wind increased to the point that he was concerned about getting the boat back to the lodge. Here in the shelter behind the trees I worked quickly to get the sunset down in paint. Trumpeter swans appeared, gliding ghost-like among the shadows of the far shore. The caretaker told me that he had counted over thirty of them that were wintering here this year.

The light had changed so much that I decided to call the little sketch finished. This is the tricky part of painting on site: remembering what it was like ten or fifteen minutes ago so you are not chasing and constantly changing the image. During the spring, I turn to oils to do my outdoor sketching since watercolours are disturbed by raindrops and dry extremely slowly. The painting shown here is a watercolour that I did in my studio using the oil sketch as my reference material. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did creating it!

Comments e-mail: ghenschel@shaw.ca, or website: www.henschel.ca

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