48" x 36"
The West Coast Trail in British Columbia is well-known by hikers from all over the world who want to prove themselves. The trail is quite rugged and there are no side exits along the way, so you are committed to the entire trail, a trip that normally takes 4 days. At the end of the trial very tired looking people were flaked out all over the ground, some of them boasting that they had made it in three days. We had our little girl with us so we intended to walk for just a few miles. But, in the end we had travelled about 18 km (11 miles). We had to promise our daughter all sorts of things to encourage her to make the trip.
The trail winds through a habitat called the fog belt. There was no direct sun, but it wasn’t dark either. It was hazy bright on most days. The problem with haze, from the artist’s point of view, is that it doesn’t create distinctive shadows and without distinctive shadows it’s difficult to create the illusion of depth. As we passed beside a grove of Sitka Spruce, I noticed that all the shadows on the trees were soft. The light was filtered twice, first through the clouds and then through the leaves. The result was a beautiful, soft light which turned the fine filaments of the mosses into gold. I wondered if I could capture that effect in oils.
Although I was fascinated by the light, I was concerned that a pure stand of one species might not be a suitable subject for painting because it was too much of the same thing. I like the variety of a mixed forest. On the other hand, it is rare to see trees in pure stands. The more I looked at it the more interested I became. The similarity of the trees made me look harder for the subtle differences between them. Some were lighter, some darker; the size of the plates on the bark differed and so on.
The foreground was thick with what I called blueberries on steroids when I first saw them. They grow up to 16 feet tall (5 m), and have big, juicy dark blue berries. Apparently, they were an important food for the first Nations people who ate them raw or dried them into cakes. In Canada they are called Salal (Gaultheria shallon).
From the artistic point of view, they were a perfect foil for the trees. The leaves were dense, opaque, and shiny. The thickness created the shadows that made the foreground dark. The shiny surface of the leaves added a white sparkle to set off the soft golden colors of the mosses.
This Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis) grove lives off the West Coast trail on Vancouver Island. Sitka thrive in the fog belt, from Alaska through British Columbia and Washington to Oregon. On the coast It’s a large tree even by West Coast standards, reaching 180 feet (55 m). There is one on Vancouver Island that is said to be the tallest tree in Canada, at 312 feet (95 m). This painting is not intended to celebrate one grand old tree. It celebrates another feature of this species, that it grows in pure stands.