The Sentinels 2014
Ninstints or Nan Sdins , Haida Gwaii
As I was working on the Blue Totems painting, my sister in Calgary asked if she could commission a painting of the iconic totems from Haida Gwaii. I was initially unsure about doing more of a landscape painting, but I then capitulated and thought I would give it a try. But I was also feeling the crunch of the lack of space in my small condo. I had hung what I could of the series to date on my condo walls, but had run out of space to store the rest, along with new canvas etc. So before I could continue, I had to pack away the dining table set into my bedroom (yes you heard right) and built a storage unit for my dining area. That also allowed me to extend my studio a few more feet. I then had to build a partition between the now storage space and the living room (now my son’s bedroom). So it is all very cramped! *see images
Once that was all done, I was able to begin on the commission, based on the famous images of the totem grouping. My sister especially liked the lighting from the late day sunset in the image that we had selected. I liked that option because the painting would still be about the totems and not having to compete against a background of natural daylight trees. There was strength to that onward gaze of the totems, all in the same direction, facing into the bright sunset against that dark background which was tempered by that gentle sky.
I decided to set up the painting in a stronger position by cropping off along the edge of the last totem on the right (as in the original photo, the tree truck in the back was dead space). I had tried different canvas size layouts and determined that the 24”x 36” landscape size would be best. The painting would have a strong solid image at the right (with the totem being a sentinel that blocks and protects) and with a more open section on the far left. I then reworked the design to break up the black background on either side of the central post, reconfiguring the trees and sky section by adding more sky coming through the dense clump of trees in the shadows. The lavenders and blues needed to be stronger to balance with the ambers of the sunset, and make the background less ominous.
As I developed the painting, I opted to cool down the amber so that the wood tones and details could come through more, as well as keeping the autumn colours of the grasses more natural. Having done that, I needed to add just a bit more light to the treetops, catching some of that late day sun. I used other reference images of the totems, which had been taken in earlier years in order to determine what I was seeing in the sunset photo. The totems are in varying degrees of decay and it was difficult to see the carving, especially the ones on the far left.
When the painting was completed, the nerve-racking time of shipping was at hand. I am always uneasy about shipping because no matter how well you pack a piece of artwork, as with my icons, you can never assume that the carrier(s) will take due care. So I always err on the side of over packing rather just to be safe. It arrived safe and sound to its home in Calgary.
Commissioned and owned by -
David and Giselle Brunel, Calgary Alberta