Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Iceland: Ash and Ice

Vatnajökull Glacier pokes through masses of volcanic rock.
Watercolour, 22 x 30 in. 2015
Hekla volcano dominates the landscape.  Its last eruption occurred in 2000.
Watercolour,  17½ x 30 in. 2015
Ashes from the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjökull stain the glacier black where ice has melted beneath.
Watercolour,  17½ x 30 in. 2015
Mist over Mount Esja, 11 x 14 in. 2015
Valley near Mosfellbær, watercolour, 11 x 14 in. 2015
One morning I was painting at Górvik cove when an arctic tern began fishing directly in front of me. This was the first time I had been so close to one of these great diving birds. It circled above the water and then took a plunging nose-dive into the water. The fish seemed to escape a half a dozen times before the tern was satisfied and flew off with its catch. The water was crystal clear and completely still.  Two arctic loons appeared in the distance, their heads bobbing at the water's surface. I recognized their eerie calls, although the sound was slightly different from the common loons of Eastern Canada.  About twenty minutes later the breeze began, rippling the water and changing the aspect of the landscape. 

The contrast between dark volcanic ash and white ice fascinates.  Mount Hekla lurks innocently behind fields of lupins, yet it is one of Iceland's most active volcanoes with over 20 eruptions since 874 AD. It is about three miles long and 5000 feet high.  

Watercolour has an immediacy that I returned to during my residency at Korpúlfsstađir. It was a last-minute decision to pack my watercolour supplies. These sketches record visual images and ideas quickly.  I have a large, round Chinese painting brush that helps me avoid extraneous details.  

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Iceland: Strokkur Geysir

Strokkur Geysir erupts every 8 to 10 minutes.

The plume of water rises 15 to 30 metres in a few seconds.
I had to back up to fit the whole plume in the photo frame.

The water recedes just as quickly as it rises!
 Little Geysir boils continuously.

The original Geysir hot spring is less active now, erupting about twice a year, but the nearby Strokkur Geysir enthrals crowds of tourists. There are other geysers and hot pools in the area, including basins of bubbling mud surrounded by crusts of yellow and red mineral deposits.  The Geysir Visitor Center includes eateries, souvenirs and beautiful (expensive) gifts as well as a gas station. 

Geothermal activity is ever-present as you travel around Iceland. Plumes of steam rise from hillsides with the occasional whiff of sulfur dioxide.  Geothermal swimming pools, heating plants and electricity-generating stations utilize the massive power that lies beneath the surface of the land. 

My new series of paintings and panels suggests some of this geological activity.  

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Iceland: Jökulsárlón Icebergs

The Breiđarmerkurjökull glacier calves icebergs in a spectacular lagoon.

Each iceberg is unique, taking its form from wherever it lay inside the glacier.

Aqua tints glow from the interior of the sculpted ice.

One of the boats adds scale to the scene.
Jökulsárlón is one of the most visited places in Iceland. Boats guide visitors between fantasically shaped icebergs in the glacial lagoon as the ice floats toward the sea. Each iceberg is unique in texture, coloration and form. Most seem architectural, with cave-like hollows and pointed spires. The ice glows turquoise and aquamarine from its depths. It is crystal clear, lacking bubbles. The great weight of the glacier presses layers of snow into perfect ice.  Dark streaks of volcanic ash appear randomly in some formations.

1000 year old crystal clear ice!


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Iceland: Gulfoss and Þingvellir

Enormous Gulfoss Falls
Cave-like rock formations at Þingvellir (Thingvellir) on the Eurasian Tectontic Plate.

Water flows from the falls where the Vikings redirected the river through the cliffs at Þingvellir.
Visitors walk through the rift between the tectonic plates.
North America is on the left and Eurasia is to the right.
A view of the rift while standing on top of the Eurasian Plate.

The Golden Circle is the most popular and well-travelled excursion for good reason. It's highlights are monumental and grand.  Gulfoss is at the junction of two rivers with two waterfalls.  The ant-like dots on top of the cliff are tourists snapping photos, so you can see the scale of it all. We were covered with spray that rose well above the sides of the gorge.

Þingvellir (Thingvellir) is the historic site of the first parliament, the summer meetings of the Icelandic cheiftains and their entourages, where laws were reviewed and enacted through group consent. It is also one of the rift zones between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates that are moving apart at a rate of two centimetres a year. The North American cliff face has been pushed upwards in strangely shaped blocks of stone, while the Eurasian side is more eroded and covered with mosses and plants. It is easy to see why the Viking chieftains chose this area for their summer meetings. 

I find the rock formations fascinating! I'm certain they will appear in my artwork in the future.

Stay tuned for more about the Strokkur Geysir, also on the Golden Circle tour route.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Iceland: New Sketch of a Hot Spring

Sketch 3 - Hot Spring, incised Plexiglass and painted panel,10 x 12 x ½ in.
Plumes of steam rise from the landscape in the Icelandic countryside. Geothermal springs are used to heat homes, greenhouses and produce electricity. The steam escapes in puffs and veils that contrast with surrounding deposits of rusty iron oxide and yellow sulfur.  I painted the panel in dark tones in order to utilize the smokey effect of sanded and incised Plexiglass.  (The second wood panel underneath is not part of the project.)

I am working on Sketch 4 - Mountain Stream at the moment. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Iceland: Sampling Reykjanes' Cliffs, Steam, and Trolls

Dramatic cliffs and rocks at Valahnúkur, Reykjanes Peninsula

The cliffs cast aquamarine shadows in the water.

Eldey Island, home to world's largest gannet colony.
Dots under the flying gull (upper left) are a few tourists who climbed to the top.
Geologically active Reykjanes Peninsula features mammoth 13th century lava fields and volcanic cliffs that dwarf people with their massive forms. The oldest lighthouse in Iceland is also located here at Valahnúkar.

Reykjanes Lighthouse, oldest in Iceland. Broken shards of lava protrude amidst black sand and tiny wildflowers.

The Lady Gunna is currently angry!

Geothermal steam from hot springs provides heat and electricity, as well as relaxing, natural hot tubs and swimming pools. Gunnuhver Hot Spring is named after the legend of Gunna, a poor woman who lost her only cooking pot to a Viking and died of starvation. She returned to haunt the area as a vengeful ghost!  The amount of steam varies from day to day.  The area around the hot spring seems like a different planet with iron and sulfur deposits around pools of grey, boiling mud.
Go to this blog for the Legend of Gunna.

Boiling Water releases billows of steam.

Lumps of Lava resemble trolls from a distance.

Volcanic cones dominate the landscape.

Many more photos and comments are coming!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Iceland - Sketch from a Glacier

Sketch - Mýdras-Jökull Glacier,
incised Plexiglass and painted panel, 10 x 12 x ½ in.
(Photo was taken at an oblique angle to avoid reflections on the Plexiglass)

Scratch marks in the Plexi surface catch the light and refract with slightly varying highlights, animating the image more than if I produced a flat print or painting.  I want to show the dead blackness of the piles of ash left behind as the glacier melts underneath them, leaving ebony cones shaped like miniature volcanoes.  The summer glacier is porous and uneven on its surface, with flecks of cinders everywhere.  The blue-green tint to the ice below is barely visible until you peer into a water-filled hole or tunnel.  Think of this as wall-sized when I enlarge it!

Today I took the bus to Bauhaus, a huge hardware and building center where I went looking for a way to plug in my Dremel tool. Instead I bought some wrought iron boring tools that are actually very good for incising Plexiglass, even if they won't help me make holes in it.  I also bought some 'crazy glue' and reversed my spacing system between the plastic and wood panel. It seems to work on the small size.  The screws come through to the front of the panel, then the clear bead spacers and the Plexi panel are held on with 'crazy glue.' So far so good!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Iceland: Korpúlfsstađir Studies Begin

Sketch for Esja 1, incised Plexiglass and acrylic on plywood
10 x 12 x ½ in.
In this sketch I have used the Plexiglass to suggest rain and mist in front of the mountain. Esja Mountain is constantly changing. It would be possible to do a whole series of Esja where no two pieces would  be the same.  You have to imagine this image about 1 metre x 2 metres.

Glacier Study 1, graphite and watercolour pencil on paper 10 x 12 in.
The dark areas of this sketch are much blacker than they appear in this photo. The cinders and ash from the last volcanic eruption create a stark contrast to the soft, crumbling surface of the summer ice cap. There are blue-green tints within cracks and fissures. Apparently these can be very dramatic during the winter when the glacier surface is glassy and hard. 

Glacier Study 2graphite and watercolour pencil on paper 10 x 12 in.
Plexiglass can add crystalline textures to the icy areas of the subject. Mist rising from the ice can be suggested with judicious sanding of the Plexi surfaces.  

As you look at my sketches think of these visual ideas in large formats. I will be working them up once I am back in Canada.  I have already accumulated a large number of photos to use as resource material as well.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Iceland - Flora by the Trails

Seaside Bluebells, also found in Nunavut, Canada

Scabosia perhaps?
Garden Angelica, an important traditional Icelandic herb
Sea Campion
Lichens and Wild Thyme ?
Today I walked farther down the trail that follows the seashore near Korpúlsstađir, photographing more of the tiny flowers and delicate-looking plants that are growing as they please, both native and invasive varieties.  The texture and colour combinations are fascinating.  I can foresee several large-format drawings based on these small investigations.  I will have excellent resource material to use all through next winter.

I've been inspired by the work of Icelandic artist Eggert Pétursson.  Even before this trip to Iceland, I noticed his large paintings of Icelandic flora in several art journals.  I felt fortunate to buy a 2012-13 book of over 70 of his paintings at the Reykjavik Art Museum.  Visit Pétursson's web site with the link below to see some of his work.

Eggert Petursson Web Site

I'm not certain if I have identified the plants correctly. Some of the plants I have seen are common to the arctic in many countries.  Others are imports and invasive species.  A variety of lupin, for example, was introduced on purpose, but has now become problematic.  I've also noticed a variety of yarrow that looks familiar to me from eastern Canada.  I'm allergic to it, so I'm not a fan!

I am working on a panel and drawing in my sketchbook. Perhaps tomorrow I will have photos of some of this preliminary work to post.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Ice and Cinders - Glacier Hike in Iceland

Mýrdals-jökull glacier, Iceland

Water bores holes down through the ice.

Cathedral-like vaults form over melting ice.

Our guide looks into a large hole.

Here I am armed with a pick! Not exactly a fashion statement!

Skógafoss up close
Day 4 of my residency in Iceland lived up to my expectations.  I arranged for the 'Walk on the Ice' excursion before leaving home and it provided me with much material for my 'Sculpted by Water' project.  Above are only a few of the hundreds of photos I snapped during the hike. The surface of the glacier softens in the summer, making it porous and easy to dig into with crampons on our boots. The pick also helps to steady us as we climb up and down strange formations of ice and cinders. The cones of ash actually begin in crevices in the ice during a volcanic eruption.  The cinders compact and remain as the ice around them melts, leaving behind hillocks and cones of blackness. Black streaks mark layers of eruptions in the ice field. The most active volcano in Iceland, Katia, lurks beneath the surface of this glacier.

On the way back from the hike, we stopped at Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss, both majestic and gigantic waterfalls.  The glacier lost 20 cm of height to melting in the last four days!  All of this surging water makes impressive waterfalls all along the southern ridge of cliffs.

Time to work in the studio today!