"The Living Coast", which aptly describes the region portrayed in the poster, began early in the summer of 2000. When I was first called upon to create the original oil painting for this project, I felt it was a great opportunity to combine a number of my interests; painting the lands, waters and fish of this country. As it was to be representative of a coastal stretch which covers over 3000km, a great deal of planning began the process which would take my wife Janet, oldest daughter Andie, and myself on the two week research trip which would give me not only the reference, but the inspiration required to tackle this project.
Step one was to pour over the maps (almost floor size I might add!) that were supplied to me from Peter Burtch (a specialist on the coast with the MNR). The challenge was to identify a variety of unique features along the coast that could be incorporated into one image while representing it's entirety at the same time. Although I have some experience with the coast firsthand, it didn't compare at all with what Peter was able to share with me on the phone. With his help, not only were geological gems identified along the coast, but the practical things such as boat access locations were pinpointed. You don't realize until you get up there (especially the Lake Superior region) how time consuming it would be to find out all these things on your own. Following a complete gear check, we loaded the truck down heavily with everything from an aquarium, tent, sleeping bags, painting gear, above water camera, underwater camera, above/below water video camera, a canoe, coolers, etc, etc, etc.
Janet and Andie Trépanier canoeing just outside of Sinclair Cove on Lake Superior.
Andie and Janet helping Cory get ready to go under.
When there was no more room in the old Jimmy, we proceeded to load the boat and then watched our gas needle drop (especially when we hit the mountains of Lake Superior). Our first stop along the way was Killbear Provincial Park in Georgian Bay. There, I was fortunate enough to meet up with a number or recreational divers who were going down on a couple of local wrecks. They were gracious enough to invite me to join them, and this experience gave me a small taste of the history which lies below the surface of these great bodies of water. From there we traveled north to the Bayfield Inlet area where we stayed for s few days at a friends' island. Using this as a home base, I did a number of my own landscape paintings, scuba dived some more and tried to gather a few specimens for the fish portions of the painting (or to put it simply...went fishing).
Moving on again northward, we tackled Lake Superior next (or should I say, it tackled us!) We settled into Lake Superior Provincial Park at around midnight that evening, after a slightly longer drive than expected. While at the campground, we snuck out with the canoe one evening to visit the pictographs in the fog. Although not a big trip, the mood of the evening , with the warm glow of the sun touching us and the rock cliffs which we paddled past, combined to make some of the most memorable moments of the trip. After reorganizing our things a little, we loaded the boat up for a trek up to a remote beach in Guargantua Harbour. This location would allow us to research some very unique and beautiful parts of the coast, and dive on a shallow wreck that was right in the harbour. Our put-in location was the only boat launch in the park, a spot called Sinclair Cove. It's a beautiful bay, protected from the wind by a few small islands. It was about 4:00pm when we actually fired up the engine and eased our way between the islands.
The idea was to boat up for about 30 to 40 minutes, reach our destination, set up camp, have a nice supper over the open fire and maybe even do a little painting that evening. We learned quickly the number one rule of Lake Superior (as I see it anyway); 1-your ideas are not necessarily the lake's ideas and 2-be flexible (I guess that's two). Although we were in an 18"6" Lund with a 150h.p. motor, a very fine and sizeable boat, we were not about to risk the waves that we encountered once we got out in the open waters. Now 4 to 5 foot waves may not seem all that big to some people, but it was only a mild breeze at the time. Should it decide to pick up at all during our ride, we could have found ourselves in very serious trouble with very few options for beaching the boat (cobble stones and rock cliff are not the most conducive for a soft landing), and the ever present ice cold waters of the lake would render our lifejackets of little use. With these things to consider, and not to mention a 5 year old on board, we turned back into the cove.
Roasting marshmallows with new found friends in Lake Superior.
Some more gorgeous coast!
Without any safe beach there either, we located the beautifully protected pool in the backside of one of the islands that we found the night previous by canoe. The entrance was rather narrow so we pulled ourselves in through it's opening with the Minn Kota electric motor on the front of the boat and found ourselves in our own little oasis away from the wind. The area was only big enough to turn the boat around in a small circle, about six feet deep and sparkling clear. The winds never did die down, so adding to the adventure for our daughter, we set up the top on the boat, had supper and laid our sleeping bags on the floor for a cozy nights' rest. You can plan all you want, but sometimes it just doesn't go according to the plan. Sometimes, it actually works out better. Because that evening, while on the boat, we enjoyed one of the most beautiful sunsets of the trip, with the days' last light streaming through the crevice in the island which faced us. I quickly worked to capture as much as I could on canvas while it lasted.
The finished painting serves as a reminder one of the highlights of the trip. Later that evening, a full moon graced the water and land with it's mesmerizing light, and served to inspire another painting which I began right there on the bow of the boat (strapping a headlight to my forehead gave the light that I needed to see my paints). So I've learned to let things happen as they may while in the field; and have been fortunate to reap many a reward. The following morning, things had calmed down enough for us to make our way up the Guargantua, where we spent several days; one being an extra as we were windblown the one morning we tried to leave. After some more diving, traveling up the coast gathering reference along the way, and painting some more of the spectacular scenery from the area, we made the trip back to the studio where all the final painting was created. My research was by no means over however. As there are over 25 life forms depicted in the painting, I continued to paint and find reference materials all the way through the making of the piece.
Andie the hard working little camper!
At last the piece was completed, the posters printed, and the original unveiled at the Bushplane Museum in Sault Ste. Marie (the halfway point of the Heritage Coast). On hand for the televised announcement was a crowd representing various interest groups from the coast. Mr. Ted Chudleigh (parliamentary assistant the Mr. John Snobelen, the Minister of Natural Resources, and the gentleman heading up the GLHC project) made the announcement an unveiled the piece with myself.
Our campsite at Guargantua harbour.
ARTIST'S NOTES: During the making of this painting, I experimented with a different way of using my reference captured from the field. Normally, I would rely on an old trusty slide projector to view my slides. Because I actually video taped a lot of of my reference, especially underwater, I decide to use a new tool that I have in the studio (my Apple G4 computer). Gathering all my images together, I organized and created numeous slide shows, in Adobe Acrobat, which I then viewed on an Apple Studio Display. The benefits are numerous, including the ability to zoom in and out on the photos to view more detail. As you can see, I also modified the display (by hanging it from the ceiling) so that it almost "floated" next to the painting in progress.
This allowed a natural viewing angle without having to wrench my neck 90 degrees to my left as I would in looking at a regular monitor on a table. It also allowed me to slide the piece in behind the display, making it easy to work on the right side of the painting. The vivid and accurate colours of the display were of great use in creating "The Living Coast". Though I'm not quite ready to toss out the slide projector yet, this new digital technology is making a great additon to the old tradition of oil painting.
Below: MR. Ted Chudleigh and Cory at the unveiling in Sault Ste. Marie
Watch the making of "The Living Coast" below, on Cottage Life Televison (originally aired in 2001):