A Brush with Henschel: Canyon Patterns

“The direction of the sun could not have been better if some Hollywood director had planned it…”

Several years ago I was fortunate enough to be a third party in a helicopter trip to the middle portion of the Tsitika River. The Department of the Environment was doing tests on a number of North Island rivers to measure flow, sediment, etc. in the winter. It was a winter of heavy snows and fairly respectable frosts and I remember I was anticipating some extraordinary snow scenes in the higher country of that area. I was not to be disappointed.

The direction of the sun could not have been better if some Hollywood director had planned it since the sun in any day in January is of short duration. It was streaming straight down the canyon that made up this part of the Tsitika and creating hundreds of patterns of light and shadow.

I knew that I had about an hour at best and there was always a chance that mists would block out what sun there was. As a result I ignored my sketchbook in favour of the speed of my camera and went crazy in my fervour to capture what was obviously a golden moment. I had three rolls of thirty-six exposure slide film, one hundred and eight pictures. When I know I will be dependent upon photos for painting I usually take three exposures of each scene so as to make sure I have some detail in the dark areas as well as in the highlights. I blew all three rolls in just about the time that the sun dipped over the huge trees to envelope the entire canyon in shadow.

Since my film was gone and the river testing was still not finished I used the rest of the time to do some pencil sketches. Having the sun didn’t matter because I had the photos for reference as to light and shadows. I had free reign to develop the designs and compositions that would work for future paintings.

During the course of the next few years I did several paintings using the ideas from those wonderful few hours we had spent in the canyon on the river. One of this series was made into a limited edition print of four hundred. Just lately I needed a scene that was “typically Canadian” for a show in Australia. The canyon pictures came to mind. They do have snow in parts of Australia but not complete with icicles!

The show in Melboune,Australia, a massive undertaking by the Rotarians that sells over a million dollars in art each year, is a story in itself.

Comments: email: gordon@cablerocket.com or web: www.henschel.ca

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