Tag Archives: Canal Park

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.”

 

 

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”

How House Coffee and Wildflowers Go Together


A-coffee-cup_web Graphite on drawing paper 6″x6″

There is a place, a bakery actually, I really like to go in Duluth, MN.  It is in Canal Park and is called Amazing Grace Bakery.  It bears no resemblance to a bakery and it is within a renovated waterfront 8 story building.  First three floors are retail and offices, with studios and services on the next four, apartments on the top. The bakery is in the basement down eight stairs from the outside, with windows looking out at the ankles of passersby.  A stairwell, with wood handrails polished from heavy use, leads most of the way down to a wooden heavy single glass panel door, smudged from in and out wrong-side pushes.  The entrance is compressed with merchandise opportunities, weekly free papers, small bulletin board and a vending machine that does not fit the custom alcove built for vending machines because it shares the space with afterthought plumbing improvements.  It was once the doorway that led to the coal room that is now this bakery/coffee house/open mike stage/study hall for the local colleges/favorite place for artists to get a cup of coffee and not look different, but still feel different (or for some to look very different).

window_web     room-view_web     at-counter_web     guy-reading-2 Graphite on Drawing paper 6″x7″

It is not the coffee that attracts people, although without it no one would come.  It is not the bakery, either.  As bakeries go, it produces oversized cookies and muffins, and fresh bread that is used mostly for oversized sandwiches as off center as the exotic coffees.  The bread is sliced diagonally and too thick, making an assembled construction that must be disassembled to eat.

It isn’t the decor or the room appointments.  Nothing matches, save the three styles of chairs, and they don’t match each other.

The tables are rectangles and circles.  Rectangles are painted black on top as checkerboards.  Round ones are dressed with cloths as if they are the ladies of the room.  Each table, both square and round, has a small vase with a fresh cut wild flowers, embellished with a fern bow or babies breath twig.  Each vase is a different unique item.  The only common thing about them is they are all small, inexpensive and unusual.  They all have this one thing, each one is different, no two alike.  Some are jelly jar simple.  Others are chipped china porcelain.  Some look silver, some brass, others are handmade pottery.  Together they tell a story of someone who watches, someone who shares.  Sitting at any table on any day, the vase tells a story of being found, or saved, collected or gathered.  Perhaps some given because it is known that this place collects such things.  They match the customers, none of them match either.

Entering any place for the first time strikes at memories and comparisons.  We all do that, check out for telltale signs of comfort, safety, personal fit.  Scan the layout, read the menu, ask vapid questions about strange looking things behind the counter.  Usually within a few seconds we can tell if this place is for us.

So the waitress asks, “Can I help you?” – “I’ll have the house coffee,” I reply.  “For here or to go?” and the question raises a blush of doubt.  A regular would know if they wanted to stay, if it was safe to stay.  Besides, where do you take it to go, without knowing the neighborhood?  Others may ask for the café latte’, or Mocha, maybe the espresso two bean double.  A large cup of house coffee is a license to be able to take a table and look as normal or as strange as others in the room, to have a license to sit way too long at one of the tables and do one’s own thing.

Sometimes only a moment is embarrassing. “Let me know when you decide.”  She turns to the next customer who spurts out a string of coffee descriptions and names that ends in a double latte’.  It could be one cup or several, it is hard to tell for the unfamiliar, the uninitiated, regular coffee person.  The coffee machine makes grinding sounds against indecision.  She turns back, “So, you decided?” “For here,” I reply. “Small or large?” “Large.”

     Conga-drums_web     Flowers-and-vase-2_web 

Graphite and watercolor pencil on drawing paper 6″x7″

Coffee is served in a large round-handled cup too full, too slippery for one-handed gripping.  She hands change right over a tipping basket, with a sign saying, “Big tippers make better lovers,” shaking the basket which becomes a familiar sound during a half quart coffee experience.

Then I realize, like the wild flowers and everything else in the room I, too, have been collected to sit among the eclectic and become part of someone else’s new experience.  I have sat and drawn and painted in Amazing Grace Bakery for years now, while taking my breaks from the plein air work in Canal Park, the streets, lake front and hills of Duluth, Minnesota.

.flowers-and-chekerboard_web

jmc/emc

© John Michael Cook

Duluth from Canal Park


Cityscape-from-canal-park_web India Ink with quill pen 8″x10″ on illustration board.

View from Canal Park looking at Duluth downtown. This is a plein air (on-site) ala-prima rendering.  Open pen ink drawing is difficult enough in the studio, and usually out in the field a technical pen is more expedient, but the pen personality of an open pen is so distinctive and yields such a different outcome, that sometimes I just grab it and go. There is little room for error in this style because the vertical lines betray any slip of the hand.  In the trees and even flags, some margin for error exists.  Yes, I did use a straight edge for the flag poles, so?

Wind and shifting conditions, along with sunlight eye glare on white paper can make it even tougher.  When you are done, the results are not as smooth as a studio piece, but a freshness exists that makes the rendering more . . . well, you say it.

jmc/emc

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Seagull In Joyful Flight


Pen and Ink on illustration board 8″x10″ Rapidograph Tech Pen.

Graceful seagull in flight; they are a joy to watch and both fun and funny characters to sit and observe. Catching them with a pencil sketch and later converting to pen and ink works best. Grabbing photo research helps, but there is nothing like watching and sketching to get the feeling of how much they enjoy flying. Makes you want to stretch your arms out and try. If you watch the children watching the birds, they mimic their flight with out stretched arms and share their popcorn to encourage the joy. Canal Park in Duluth, Minnesota – one of the best places to see both children at play and birds at work.

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