Category Archives: Duluth Mn.

Art work and stories in and about Duluth Minnesota

Seagulls of Canal Park, or 5 things you might not know about seagulls!


 

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These silly sea gulls provide both charm and agitation to the life of a plein air painter. After many days (years) of painting in the presence of Gulls, I learned at least 5 interesting things about them.

1. They know who is friend or foe. If you feed them they don’t dive bomb your floppy hat and leave you a present. If you ignore them they do! They learn to get close if you let them alone. They have a very good memory.

2. Young gulls start out brown not white. They are taught in a school by older birds and protected until they are almost grown.

3. Seagulls go very far inland and search for food in “dry” places too. They dwell around very small ponds too if there is food. Most like to live and nest on high bluffs or buildings.

4. Seagulls are very good swimmers and divers, and float just as well as a duck. They are a very smart bird, sometimes using bread crumbs to “fish”, attracting small fish to the surface to then dive on and grab for supper.

5. Seagulls can be found very late in the fall in Duluth, then one day they just vanish. I do know they are considered a migratory bird, and fly south for the winter. Although they live in flocks they migrate more haphazardly than ducks or geese and forage along shorter flights paths in steps until they find enough warmth and food. They are habitual and return to many same locations yearly.

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The Band Played On


The-Band-Played-On_web

The Band Played On 17″x25″ Watercolor on 90# paper

Sometimes a word is worth a thousand pictures, or several words!  My son and I had set up to paint plein air in Canal Park in Duluth, Minnesota. There, a “dry docked” retired tug boat sat in an oversized “planter” on the sidewalk and became my subject for that day’s watercolor painting.

Land-tug_web

I sketched and began to lay out my painting, wet the paper and had just begun to wash in a sky when….these guys came out of nowhere, toting folding chairs and musical instrument cases. They set up right between me and my tug subject.  Rude!  You know they could see we were there first!  Not a word; nope, they said nothing, they just took out their instruments, looked at each other and begun to play—–the most amazing brass quintet I think I may have ever heard.

I did not know what to say, so I just began to sketch them into the picture, painting quickly as could be.  Soon a large crowd gathered around them and us; the band never looked up, playing one piece after another. They played for over an hour this way, long enough to roughly paint them when all of a sudden the very loud signal horn for the lift bridge went BOOOOOOOOOFFFFF announcing the arrival of a Great Lakes freighter.  The crowd (whom I had not had time to paint in), turned and ran to the harbor channel to watch the great ship coming in and leaving us and the musicians alone, and the band just played on never looking up.  Later in the studio at home, I added in the ship and the crowd and finished up the tug which is all I had wanted to paint.

After the band finished I did make the effort to go over and meet them and find out what this was about. They were all professionals in the medical field and met twice a year for a impromptu concert in a public place just to keep their skills sharp.  They practice all year for the events but never perform publicly except for these two concerts.  After a rude start, I felt privileged to have experienced this, so I named the painting, “The Band Played On.”

 

 

Seagulls Swarm


Diving for pop corn

Diving for pop corn 6″X9″ Aquarell water graphite on illustration board.

Ever entertaining

The seagulls are always an attraction by Lake Superior and especially near the popcorn stand. This is a quick water pencil sketch, as the birds do not pose in the air, one must build birds in short dashes and flashes of glimpses and brush strokes. The water graphite media is great for this as the tone and details can be enhanced with strokes of water both in process and later. I have found a #4 or #6 round sable works well to render most any small sketch. Then I found the water handle brush, it has it’s own water supply in the handle. A slight squeeze and you have a drop of water on the bristles. Quick and flexible and easy to carry both pencil and brush and water in your pocket.

 

Why is a Tug(boat) interesting to most everyone?


Tug-web  Tug at Canal Park Duluth 6.5″x9″ 2B pencil on illustration board.

It was a retired, “still operational” but never used anymore Tug named the Lake Superior. Yellow and black and was open to tourists until about seven years ago. The tug “Lake Superior” has a rich history  with years of service on the Great Lakes, parking and launching ships, assisting in the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway, busting ice on Lake Superior,  and was even used during World War II out on the ocean.

Tied up (starting 1996) for a decade in the Minnesota slip next to Canal Park, the Lake Superior (tug),  the 71 year old workhorse was sold back into service. I was fortunate enough to tour it both inside and out while it sat there as an ice-cream shop and tourist attraction. 

It did occur to me then that somehow tugboats have a magical attraction in both their shape and their purpose. Approachable in size (114 feet long for this one) tugs are a workhorse, kind of like most of us. They do tasks and chores that keep the big ships and harbors open and working too. They have a friendly profile that makes them all seem as they are like our bath tub toys and a sort of personality is exuded from them. Most are colorful with markings and flags, running lights, radar, antennas, and a cool smoke stack, and seem so sure footed or (finned) as they go about moving huge ships around. Most tugs sport a shade brow or awning over the Wheel house windows, looking like they have a visor like a card dealer would wear. This gives a very confidant and courageous personality to them, Almost all tugs have a curving upward deck and superstructure that rises towards the bow, making them look bent in the middle as if they are raising their chin and puffing up their chest. A rake with panache to their plowing through the water, challenging even the roughest of weather in their assignments.

It is impossible to not be influenced from childhood picture books when drawing a tug and harder to avoid an anthropomorphic rendering. I drew at least six variations before I realized I was doing just that. In this image I decided to just look and render taking less than twenty minutes so as to not get overworked and influenced by “Little Toot” If you don’t know who “Little Toot” is that is because me and this tug are almost the same age and “Little Toot” is too! Look up Disney’s “Little Toot”

Mushrooms-A mouse-Snow and Tall Ships


Niagra-Arrival_web Acrylic on Gessoed Hardboard 32″X48″

Snow Comes When It Will

(Or-Painting the “Tall Ship”)

Some of us love the snow,  some of us do not. It will chill or thrill, settling gently on upper surfaces of things gone unnoticed for years.

The afternoon temperature had reached a good sixty degrees, though very late in the fall, while trekking into the woods to retrieve cut firewood, I was met with a sudden surprise beside the pathway, a larger than average mushroom.  Those mystical fungus flowers that ferment into umbrella delights overnight are always a surprise.  This large golden beauty was near a foot across, half a foot high, growing from under the side of a fallen balsam.

Mushroom-2_web

Stepping around it, making mental note to come back with the camera, it slipped from memory during the doing of tasks at hand.  The thought of the large mushroom did not return to mind for two days.  Snow!

Events pop up,  just like mushrooms.  When the first snow came, two days after discovering this golden-colored humus dweller, some of the firewood lay still waiting and now was more needed.  Another trek out onto the path for the firewood brought the mushroom back into mind. Six inches of wet snow would collapse such a soft large mushroom, and there was a feeling of regret that the camera had not been used.

Pushing a wheelbarrow over the slight incline and rounding a corner between two birch trees, there on the side of the pathway was a lump in the smooth white snowy surface.  It was the bulk of snow on top of the mushroom.  Could it be still standing?  The lump was near a foot high in six inches of snow, and there was a black shadow slit running around its outer edge.  Snow formed a smooth curved sweep over itself and into a blue black shadow void beneath the dome of the mushroom.  The snow on top made a perfect umbrella shape and came down to within an inch of the snow on the forest floor. The slit of dark shadowy void ran all around the front of the shape and faded into smooth edges filled with snow sluff near its back side. It was standing.

Getting closer and peeking in, another surprise “popped up.”  Bursting from beneath the brim of the snow-capped mushroom mound, I had startled a small field mouse; it skittered across a few feet of surface snow, then burrowed quickly into hiding beneath the surface, most likely making illusive unseen maneuvers to allude the giant.

Peeking back beneath the mushroom, there was a dry grassy cavern-like space.  It looked comfortable in some sort of strange way.  Half expecting a small light to come on and for just a moment there seemed to be a small wooden door opening up into the stem of the mushroom, it took a double blink to realize how much the imagination can meet the reality as what is before the eyes matches preconceived notions about something.  Childhood tales of small forest creatures living warm and snug in mushroom houses has been a story element for several hundred years.  In that moment of anticipation, my expectation had mushroomed into a moment’s reality.

It is not “actually” what is there that makes a great image.

It is what is desired to be seen – that needs to be in the picture.

Somehow when the little mouse jumped from beneath the mushroom, it called up a lifetime of expectations that would one day culminate in this discovery of a small mouse house in a forest floor mushroom.  Why the lights weren’t on and the door wasn’t there was almost confusing. The scene was so reminiscent of a whole collection of images and my mind just filled in the blanks.  I thought I saw a door, a light!

Winter came.

In my studio, that week had been taken up entirely with completing a painting of a tall ship.  After my mushroom adventure I wanted a “desired” image of an event from last summer.  The arrival of the famous “Niagara,” the tall ship,  coming into the port of Duluth Harbor. My daughter and grandson had joined me (along with ten thousand others) to welcome and see this special event.

Are there other tall ships? My grandson had asked after we had greatly raised his expectations of the coming ship.

“Not so many any more, they are very old,” I replied.

“I’m four, Grampa, how old is tall ships?”  “Much, much older,” I replied as I pondered the weight of his simple question.

As the ship was spotted, everyone began to chatter.  For a half hour we photographed and watched both the ship and the crowd.  The harbor was cleared for this traffic, the ship came and was escorted by many small water craft, mostly sail boats.  We would point and say, “See the tall ship, look look. Remember this.”

He is four, I will remember it, but he will remember something else.

Da-Boats-_web

He was impressed because we were impressed.  We were not so impressed with the ship, but with the privilege of seeing such an historical old ship, sailing right out of our childhood story books and into our sight.  A tall ship, that it came to our harbor, to our town.  Others saw it, others saw us see it, we saw them see it, too, and we shared it in a community sense.  Witnesses that we had seen our past.  It is important when one can see themselves seeing something. It is actually rare.

Being there is mandatory to understanding.

The ship was moored alongside a docking area by the Convention Center, and an outgoing Great Laker cargo ship began departing the harbor.  As it slid by, it fairly dwarfed the tall ship.  “Is that a tall ship, too, Grampa?” my grandson asked.  “No, that is a big cargo freighter,” I said. “It looks tall to me,” he said. “Yes, it is tall.”

“So, it is a tall ship?”  “No.”  “Is it old?”

“Not as old as this tall ship,” I said, pointing to the fine old “Niagara.”  I was lost in my moment, and he was lost in his discovery.  I was seeing the event moment, and he was seeing the entire world in front of him; to him, all things in the harbor had the same interest and the same value, he was depending on us to help separate the worthwhile from the worthless, or to say even if anything was worthless.

For a moment I was four again; he was showing me the very nature of an artist.  Any thing in the view could be a worthwhile subject, a topic, a worthy image, if looked at from a desired viewpoint.  Regardless of age or value or size, to a child, all things start out equal.  It should be so for an artist as well.  Sometimes to understand something, one must look at it from several viewpoints.

It is not “what did I see when I was there?” but, “What did I think I saw?”

Was I looking again at a preconceived notion of what others thought we were seeing?  Is the viewpoint cynical because of commercial propaganda about the event?  Was I seeing every tall ship from my story books?

Or, did I see the magical moment of the arrival of a great ship with sails unfurled, flags flying, gliding silently past the lighthouse into port beneath gathering clouds, as any great ship should arrive.  Click, Click.  I took perhaps a hundred photos for reference later.

In the studio as the research photos are laid out, I discovered the ship had come in with no sails up, the the sky was just hazy, thinly clouded and pale blue, the water a deep grey-green with choppy little waves.  The most memorable thing was the memory of my grandson asking, “Do all ships look like that?”  I was sure the ship had “sailed in,” but it had come in under engine power.

It was his first real ship.  Perhaps it was the first real ship I had actually seen, too.

For a brief moment it was as if the mouse lived in the mushroom; for a brief moment it is as if the tall ship is all a ship ever needs to be, sails up and gliding smoothly into safe port before a storm, flags unfurled, waving, arriving to fulfill our best dreams.

jmc/emc

  33-Shore-Leave_web  Shore Leave 24″x36″ acrylic on hardboard and gesso.

© John Michael Cook

Oh Duluth


Oh, Duluth 
Acrylic on illustration board 15″x40″ 
An evening view of the city of Duluth, Minnesota.  

Can we really see?  All of us artists know (or should) that good painting is good seeing!  Looking at a moment framed in nature and also in man- made constructs.  That includes events and conditions and scenarios. We get taken away by our own thoughts in this and often overlook just what we are seeing and instead start thinking.  We see the inside of our own memories; interpretations of things, and that changes what is actually perceived out there.  Not that thinking is a bad thing, but not while seeing; just look, feel, then think.  After that, respond and remark on it in a painting, say something and think something and do something, share something, but look first.

Almost a decade ago I decided to do a series of paintings in and around Duluth, Minnesota.  I am still doing that.  It is worth mentioning how much one can experience walking around a city toting an easel, camera and paint box.  I did not expect to enjoy painting in front of people, and am much a recluse in such things, always thinking of myself as a “studio artist.”  I needed to try this, perhaps I am missing something, I thought. So I found my “floppy” hat and …

lakewalk-red-bldgs_web Boardwalk
Sepia Ink 8″x10″ on illustration board

What came as a first big surprise was that no one seemed to care, or notice very much.  The world is really busy with itself, or I was too busy with myself to realize that what I was doing really was only important to me.  I had been busy with my own personal fears and doubts about being out in public and having painting failures exposed with no studio to hide in.  At first, I found spots back out of the way or not well populated, but soon found myself drawn to places others wanted to be in also.  So, it soon became mostly comfortable to just set up and sketch, paint and write anywhere the muse struck.  When I became comfortable, the walk around world seemed to just vanish.  It seemed to send out a friendship signal that had not been there before.  Maybe body language, maybe the paint I get all over me, maybe just relaxing. And soon, friendly folks would stop and chat a bit, and all of a sudden the city looked different because of comments they might make. I was not sure if this new influence was a good or bad thing, but it was definitely a thing!

When this blog became more than just an Idea or a task off in the future, my whole intention was to get the Duluth collection posted. However, just like when I went out into the public to paint, I found fears in exposing my art online, and decided to learn how to post, make my mistakes and then slowly move into the building of an online gallery.

steeples-in-recession_webSteeples in Recession
Sepia Ink on 8″x10″ illustration board

Weather is a real challenge, more than self. (Of course, one must always have safety in mind, but that will be a different posting).

Then there was materials and techniques, of which are much easier in the studio.  But in the field, the choices to start with are the pencil, ink, water color, or colored pencils, and always if one can stand the mess, oils.  My favorite studio medium is oil, but my now favorite field medium is watercolor.  I started with graphite, does that say anything?

walk-bridge-fish_webBlue Walking Bridge
Graphite 8″x10″ on Illustration board

So now that I am developing the Duluth image section.  I will be making a place for it in the Gallery section, and post the images there.  Postings in general, art, fashion will continue here on the front page. Gallery updates as well!

jmc/emc

Eagles Above Bluffs


Cliff-Side-Eagles_web Eagles hunting from the bluff; Dip pen and ink. 7″x9″ on bond paper.

This was an onsite rendering in Duluth, Minnesota.  Plein air ink work is tricky but fun, and usually requires both touch up and clean up back in the studio.  I seldom do very large or complicated pieces in the field, not because of the complexity of dealing with wind, sun, rain and the tools, but because the time spent drawing in ink could have been used to sketch two or three ideas that could be rendered better, later.  Little time was spent on the eagles, but on forming a good likeness of the rocks.  I render as I go, so it is a little slower.  The spontaneous outcomes cannot be recreated later though, nor can the lighting conditions.  With a little research on the eagles, this will become a more refined work in color.  Looking up past pines on the bluffs, the sky can be a very striking blue behind the tree green and gray-black bedrock outcroppings.

jmc/emc

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