Tag Archives: Art

Portrait of a Pilgrim

The Plan

We are on our way back to North America after having spent about five weeks in Spain, most of that walking the last 120 kilometres or so of the Camino de Santiago. What was the point of all that, you might ask? Why did we feel the need to drag ourselves, and in the end, a wheelchair, across a chunk of northern Spain? It would be great if I could say something glib like, “Because it was there” or “Because we like to go on vacations with a bit of a twist” but it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Santiago de Compostela, Spain

For one thing, we can’t really afford to just jet off and wander around the Spanish countryside for weeks on end. Usually, we either need to find a way to keep working on the road (Internet access makes this possible, though it can also create huge logistical challenges when connectivity is not quite as good as we need it to be). Even better is when we can find a way to tie a project to a travel destination. Sometimes it’s as simple as writing a destination travel article about a place we want to go (or, happen to be going anyway). Sometimes it’s using a destination or activity that takes place in a distant place (climbing, for example) in a book. Taking copious notes, reference photos, or conducting interviews to gather information is a way to write some of the travel costs off as long as the material is used somewhere down the road.

Digital nomad at work in a small cafe in the middle of nowhere.

In the case of this trip along the Camino Frances, though, the intention all along was to write a book about the trip and to find a way to integrate art (Dad’a art in particular). Not only is Dad’s work integrated into the written project, he is also beavering away on a series of works exploring the idea of creating a portrait of a pilgrim to be presented in an exhibition of work.

At the end of a long day of walking, Dad works on a drawing of the Castillo de Pambre

One of the the good things about being a writer or an artist is that all of life becomes a potential source of inspiration. That’s also one of the tough aspects of this type of job. There isn’t really a way to shut life off, close the office door and go home. Everything is raw material and holds the potential of the next great bit of writing or amazing painting. For someone in the arts, each day could be the one where our desire to create something worthwhile is realized. Just the act of living life becomes a pilgrimage of sorts, full of challenges and roadblocks to overcome on the way to coming up with something decent.

When we set off on the road to Santiago we knew we wanted to create something (visual art on Dad’s part, written work from me and Dani), but beyond that we weren’t exactly sure what our story would be. After all, we had plans, but plans never exactly correspond with reality.

The good news is that post trip we have plenty of raw material for a book and Dad is well on his way to creating some very cool pieces unlike anything he has ever done before. The walking together, the conversations in the evenings, the time spent looking at art, watching Dad create art, listening to conversations among other pilgrims, reading about the act of pilgrimage, visiting museums – all that input, that raw material provided a massive amount of information, stimulation, and inspiration. The creative wheels aren’t just turning, they are spinning fast.

We knew that part of the challenge after a trip is coming back and being thrown into real life distractions, so we decided to spend a couple of weeks together after we finished walking to Santiago in order to focus on the project. The process has been as challenging as anything we faced on the journey.

Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

Some of our conversations have been predictable – like comparing notes about various high (and low) points of the trip, but we’ve also talked about mortality, what inspires us, surprises like how much we all liked the Segrada Familia, Gaudi’s ode to nature and God in Barcelona, and what makes a great portrait. We’ve asked ourselves a lot of questions about the nature of pilgrimage and what a real pilgrim looks like. We sought out images of pilgrims in art and now, as we begin to write (and Dad continues to work with pen and ink and wax crayon and tempera paint sticks and watercolours) what is emerging is a story about our pilgrimage, but also a meditation on what it means to be a pilgrim – in words and images.

We collected dozens of pilgrim-related images on our trip… this one from the Pilgrim Museum in Santiago.

Dad is also exploring juxtapositions of self portraits with ancient depictions of pilgrims. He’s playing with stylistic twists and bold colour, taking fresh inspiration from time spent in the presence of Gaudi’s work, Picasso’s ever-evolving approaches to art and portraiture, and the many, many pilgrims we have seen in carvings, sculptures, murals, painted, drawn, and etched into stone.

We have been privy to Dad’s creative process in ways that have never been possible before now – living in close quarters for so long there is no way to avoid seeing how he comes up with ideas, starts sketching, restarts, scribbles, and polishes. At the same time, Dani and I have been clicking away on our keyboards.

The artist goes shopping – finding art supplies was easy in Barcelona.

I’ve been working on recreating our journey, integrating notes about art and history found along the way. I’m also trying to figure out the best way to share the conversations Dad and I have had over the past six weeks or so that we’ve been travelling together. Dani is digging deeper into the many moments that make up a pilgrim’s journey, writing a series of reflections and information essays that take the reader behind the scenes on subjects as varied as bedbugs and courier systems. The more we write and draw and talk and question, the more we discover to explore, describe, question and discuss.

Leaving Sarria…

“Is that where we are going?” Dad asks, pointing up.

“Unfortunately,” I answer.

“Oh my God. I haven’t trained for this.”

At one point we all worried that we wouldn’t have anything to say about our trip, that our three creative wells would simultaneously run dry. In fact, the opposite is happening. We all have found so much to explore I’m thinking our bigger task will not be thinking of what to include but what we will need to eventually trim out.

No fears about not having enough reference material!

An update about the Camino

Our trip to Spain is getting closer! Follow the link below to my writing blog for more details…

There is nothing quite like receiving that email confirming your flight is booked. In this case, the series of emails (Calgary to Paris via Montreal, Paris to Madrid and then various bits and pieces of the return trip plus information about trains within Spain) have triggered a crazy mix of wild excitement and sheer terror. […]

via Camino tickets BOOKED!!!!!! — Nikki Tate – Author

Spare a little change?

Throw a few coins in the tip jar and help keep that content coming! Thanks! Eager to join the team and be part of the creative journey on an ongoing basis? Become a patron at http://www.patreon.com/writergrrrl

$1.00

Dad Draws a Tree

For as long as I can remember, I have loved to watch my father draw. It has always seemed to be somewhat miraculous the way images somehow seep out of the tip of his pencil (or flow from the brushes) and onto the page (or canvas). Because Dad will be recording his impressions of the Camino trip visually, we have been talking a lot recently about the artistic process and how he will capture his experience of the trip through his art.

We’ve decided to make a series of videos about Dad and his work – where he gets his ideas, how he ‘trains’ for a new project (more about that in a future post), and then how he gets what’s in his head onto the page. This first, short video (about two minutes long) shows him drawing a tree. Simple. But we wanted to set up the camera and do a test before we launch into anything more complicated. I have watched it several times now and still find it just as fascinating to see a tree appear from nothing as I did when I watched, captivated as he drew or painted something marvelous when I was a little girl.

patreon-logo

Enjoy the blog? Consider becoming a patron to support the creation of these blog posts, photo essays, and short videos. In return, you’ll have my undying appreciation, but you’ll also get access to Patron-only content, advance peeks at works in progress, and more – all for as little as a buck a month! It’s easy – head on over to Patreon to have a look at how it all works.

Welcome to Patreon – Video

I recently decided to set up a Patreon account as a way to help smooth out the fiscal bumps and hollows of a life spent writing. Patreon guides you through the steps of setting up an account and as part of that process they encourage creators to make a short intro video… I am, for a change, playing by the rules… And so, I present to you, my intro video for Patreon:

patreon-logo

Enjoy the blog? Consider becoming a patron to support the creation of these blog posts, photo essays, and short videos. In return, you’ll have my undying appreciation, but you’ll also get access to Patron-only content, advance peeks at works in progress, and more – all for as little as a buck a month! It’s easy – head on over to Patreon to have a look at how it all works.

Japanese Maple

One of the first ornamental trees we planted when we moved here was a Japanese maple – two, actually. One has stayed tiny and red, the other has become a giant (for the diminutive maple). Both Dad and I have always liked the delicate leaves and interesting forms of these trees.

Japanese Maple by E. Colin Williams

Japanese Maple by E. Colin Williams

While Dad has been sketching away in his studio, I’ve been a regular at the library, checking out various books about trees including a couple by Thomas Pakenham. In the book, Meetings with Remarkable Trees I found lots of odd information about trees with strong personalities. The photos and artwork in the book are inspiring and do, indeed, capture something of the individual nature of trees. What was perhaps the coolest thing, though, was the way a previous patron had pressed leaves between many of the pages.

Leaves, mostly maple, have been carefully pressed between the pages of this library book about trees...

Leaves, mostly maple, have been carefully pressed between the pages of this library book about trees…

So what should I do, librarian friends? Do I leave the leaves alone and let someone else have the pleasure of finding them? Or do I remove them because maybe it isn’t such a good idea to have fauna lurking inside library books?

The Holly and the Ivy (and the cabbage and the cigarette)

Dad is having his revenge. Today as we were driving to the local raw food/wrap shop to pick up scraps for the pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, et al (yes, there is still some farming going on around here) he started singing the old English Christmas carol, The Holly and the Ivy and then launched into a list of factoids relating to holly (evergreen, red-berry-bearing and manly) and ivy (evergreen, sinewy and feminine). The fact both plants are green in the depths of winter is reason enough to celebrate them in song, but what was really interesting was the way each had been assigned a gender.

Holly Tree by E. Colin Williams (Tree a day drawing project)

Holly Tree by E. Colin Williams
(Tree a day drawing project)

This tradition of association with one gender or the other was taken to some strange lengths back in the day. According to Dad (and his online sources), ancient Brits (as in, folk of the British Isles who lived long, long ago – not doddering fools living in Leicester) used to hold singing contests when there wasn’t much else to do when the days are short and frosty. It was the men against the women, singing their hearts out in praise of their respective shrubbery, dissing that of the opposition. All, of course, was done in good fun and, apparently, at the end of these vocal feuds everyone kissed and made up under the mistletoe.

Hm. I was still pondering all this when Dad mentioned a powder room and I immediately thought of a small room in which British types powdered their noses and otherwise readied themselves for well-mannered conversations with other primped and prepped pommies. “They were lined with copper,” Dad was on a roll and, as I was imagining what fancy powder rooms they used to have, he was chatting on about how the fine sailing vessel HMS Victory (the one Lord Nelson sailed into the Battle of Trafalgar) was made with wood from 6,000 oak trees and did I know that it was the oldest-still-in-commission ship in the British fleet and currently serves as a museum ship… All of this was coming at me rapid fire as I was driving and, I confess, I was still struggling to understand why anyone would line a powder room with copper.

“So, why did they line them with copper?”

“Because of sparks.”

At which point I burst out laughing because, of course, Dad was talking about powder rooms in old wooden gun ships where, yes, sparks would be a bit of a problem with all that gunpowder lying around. And I was thinking of little old English ladies who had consumed one too many helpings of cabbage and then slipped off to the powder room for an illicit cigarette.

This Month, it’s All About Trees

There is nothing like a deadline to inspire a burst of creative energy! My newest book (co-written with my daughter, Dani) has just come out and we are busy planning a cool book launch, hopefully in partnership with the kids at Shoreline School (stay tuned – more on that as the plans come together).

New book!! It was cool to work on a project like this with daughter, Dani...

New book!! It was cool to work on a project like this with daughter, Dani…More info here

Meanwhile, though, the next book (also in the Footprints series) is well underway. The subject of the book is trees, which means I’ve been driving friends and family mad recently by babbling on and on and on about baobabs and canopy scientists, corduroy roads and carbon sinks. In some kind of self-defense move, Dad piped up the other day and told me he was doing a tree-a-day drawing challenge. “Remember how you used to do that blog a day thing?” he asked pointedly. “Like that.”

Okay, okay – it has been BUSY around here this summer, too busy, apparently, for me to sit at the computer and blog on a regular basis. Well, at all, in fact. But here we are with the seasons shifting once again. The evenings are longer and there is hope that I can find some inside time to get to projects like the blog.

Trees herald the change of seasons with such... intensity!

Trees herald the change of seasons with such… intensity!

Given that I am obsessing about trees anyway, Dad suggested I write a little something about the trees he is capturing on paper. Which seemed like an excellent idea until I saw that his first subject was a Garry Oak. “They are so gnarly – all those twisty branches,” Dad explained when I asked why he had picked the Garry Oak as his first subject for the series.

Garry Oak Trees by E. Colin Williams (drawing)Garry Oak Trees by E. Colin Williams (drawing)

To an artist I guess twisty and gnarly equals interesting and challenging to draw, but I must confess that Garry Oaks are some of my least favourite trees! (Sorry, sorry to the Garry Oak lovers out there – and, no – it absolutely was not I who poisoned Margaret’s lovely old tree – THAT tree is special… and, yes – there are maniacs out there who go about drilling holes into the roots of gnarly old trees all the better to inject them with tree-murdering toxins! Note to self: subject for a future post…silvacide.)

Garry Oak ecosystems are fragile and rare, so much so that there are armies of volunteers out there who are working diligently to preserve the trees and their immediate surroundings [for more information on this work, visit this website and have a look at the amazing resources they have made available]. Garry Oaks (Oregon White Oaks) live in western North America close to the Pacific Ocean. Their range is limited and threatened by urban and agricultural development and linked to a whole community of native species threatened by all manner of invasive species like Scotch broom and Himalayan blackberry. Given my propensity for cheering for the underdog, it’s a bit surprising I don’t know more about them. Hm. I sense a shift in attitude is already in progress…

What about you? Do you have a favourite kind of tree? A least favourite? What is it about some trees that makes them so appealing? Or, unappealing as the case may be…