Sunday, 21 August 2011

Early efforts in art journalling

Hello! I'm home from a great holiday at Manitoulin Island. Before I left, I picked up a book on art journalling by Gwen Diehn called The Decorated Journal. It's a wonderful book and very inspiring. I particularly enjoyed the section on making maps, and thought that would be a good thing to include in the journal I'd brought on vacation in case I felt crafty/creative. I sketched a map of the route from our house to Manitoulin Island, a drive of about 9-10 hours (600 km), west from Ottawa to Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron. (Note, map for artistic outlet purposes only and not to be used for navigation, academic studies, land titles, etc.) After packing our car (a.k.a. The Blue Jellybean) to the gunwales (including DD2's bike!), we set off. This map captures the journey. Gwen Diehn talks about mapping as selection of what's important, and here I've put down what were important to me, mostly where we stopped driving and took in a bit of local scenery.

The first portion of the journey goes west along the Ottawa River, which forms the boundary between Ontario and Quebec. At Mattawa, the Ottawa River goes north, and the Trans Canada Highway continues west towards Lake Nipissing and North Bay, and then up towards Sudbury, which is a nickel mining town. There is an enormous nickel there (five cents), commemorating something or other (link to Wikipedia entry). We stop there for a play and a picnic on the way home, but my investigations of historical or informative plaques are always severely curtailed due to the long drive and necessity to keep stops short. (My weakness for such plaques goes unrequited, so absolutely no chance of nipping in to Brent Lake to see the meteorite crater and related plaque - 32 km off the highway....maybe one day.....). We did stop in Mattawa for a picnic lunch, and I happily read the plaque there describing the importance of the location to the fur trade when waterways were the main transportation routes. Mattawa also has some lovely heritage architecture and stunning views, nestled as it is in two valleys. Anyway, back to the page...

I sketched the map, using a road map for reference (perhaps should not admit this???), adding the key stopping points for us along the way, and our destination, Manitoulin Island, and some other things I felt like adding. I mainly added rest stops, like the Tim Horton's (a chain of coffee & doughnut shops that seem to appear in every sizeable town). My 5-year-old daughter couldn't tell them apart and kept getting confused about whether we were back to the one we'd stopped at before. Another was the Pembroke Irving (gas station chain known for its clean bathrooms) and this particular rest stop had maps inside where I showed the girls our journey. Another stopping point on my map is symbolic of the many lovely little provincial picnic/rest areas that appear all along the route and make great places for a picnic and a place to get the wiggles out. On my map, the road stops at Espanola, but in real life the Trans Canada continues westward out to Vancouver. The only land access to the Manitoulin is the swing bridge at Little Current, which is a former railroad bridge. I made a few mistakes on the map (in best Bones McCoy voice, "Damn it Jim, I'm a stamper, not a cartographer!"), and Lake Nipissing and the lakeshore are in the wrong place (L Nipissing is east of the French River ghost town). (Random aside: I have always had a fascination with this ghost town since I found it on the map. However, it is inaccessible by road, so I will need to take up adventure canoeing if I ever want to go there. Since I can't actually get there, I keep building it up in my mind into quite an elaborate location that I am missing. In real life, it's probably nothing like I imagine, if anything of the town even remains, so I will hold off on training to become a wilderness canoe expert for the time being to avoid disappointment. Still, I find the notation on the highway map tantalizing.... )

After sketching the map in pencil, I used my daughter's watercolours to paint it. This was a bit of an adventure and I added a bit too much here and there, learning (I hope!) a lesson about leaving well enough alone. (And learning that I should invest in some good watercolours.) Still, I was pleased with the result, and did actually learn something about the geography of the trip, from the fertile Ottawa Valley, up towards the Canadian Shield, then to Manitoulin Island, with its unique landscape and history. The swing bridge at Little Current was a challenge. I could see it in my mind's eye, but couldn't draw it from that. After reading Gwen Diehn's advice on drawing and the art of truly observing the subject, I dug up a photo of the swing bridge and realized that my mind's eye wasn't really very accurate at all. My rendition here is based on my observations and some artistici license, really just capturing the essence of the structure and the main lines. But it really does look like the real thing. Who knew! Before I get too carried away with my new-found drawing abilities, I cast my eye on my fleur-de-lis in Quebec and regain my humility..... Also, the island itself was impossible to draw accurately. Way too many wiggles and squiggles, and hubby said it should be bigger. I maintain that I wanted to convey the vastness of the lake..... In real life the island is closer to the mainland and there are hundreds of islands in the North Channel, as well as large islands on the east side of the island. And the Bruce Peninsula should probably appear on my map. But it's my map and I have never been to the Bruce Peninsula, so on my map, it appears in direct proportion to my experience.

I really enjoyed the observing and the sketching and watercolouring process here, and was quite pleased with the results of my initial efforts. Many thanks to Gwen Diehn and her wonderful, inspiring, and empowering book!


  1. It sounds like you had a fantastic trip :) & what a great idea to take the journal book with you (as well as the art supplies!) it makes the trip all the more memorable :)

  2. Wow, Karen...awesome! I love that you added what was most important to you...after all, it's YOUR journal map, so who cares if anything is perfectly accurate, as long as it's relevant, right? Nice job, lovely.

  3. What a great story and sounds like a fab trip! Memories are so special.