Category Archives: On location

Watching the sunsets from on Lake Nipissing

We usually think of watching the sunset looking west, directly into the setting sun.  I often find that the most interesting light is in the clouds somewhere else.  I got to experience this on my recent trip to Lake Nipissing, where my cabin faced East.

As our campfire was crackling, we would sit and watch the lake. On this night, the reflections of the setting sun in the eastern sky clouds was spectacular. Few cameras can capture these colors as well as the human eye, but I did take a couple of photos as reminders.

One of the things that interested me were the highlights close to the horizon, and the way the reflected sunset broke around the island.

This painting is based on almost the same viewpoint as the painting titled Twilight from Memquisit, which is a painting of the pre-dawn twilight.

The next morning, with hot coffee firmly in hand, I started to figure out how to create this painting of brilliant colors in the fading light.


After dark: painting the twilight on Lake Nipissing

While I was staying at Memquisit Lodge, I painted two “sunset” paintings. Well, not quite … permit me to explain.

This one was actually the twilight before dawn. I got up quite early one morning, and looked out to a beautiful scene. The sky was clear, there was no rain, a crisp, cool morning was about to arrive. I quickly put on a warm jacket, grabbed my phone, and dashed out to snap a few photos.

It was quite chilly, and still dark, so I hopped back to bed, already thinking about the painting I wanted to create.

As you can see from my preparatory sketch, I snapped the photos at 5:46 AM — not even the fishers were out then!

You might wonder why I do a preparatory sketch when I have taken photos? Well, several reasons. First, the photos are never as nuanced as what the human eye can see. Especially in low light conditions, our eyes experience much more.

Another reason is that I am creating a painting, not reproducing a photograph. The painting will likely be somewhat different than the actual scene — I am simplifying some things, emphasizing other things, reducing complexity, showing you my ideas.

The dark sky is not all one color. Nor is the dark water. I love painting the gradations of the values, and adjusting the scene to capture my impression of it.  The challenge with a painting like this is making the darks DARK enough, but not generally black.There is a beautiful mixture you can buy from paint suppliers called Payne’s grey, which is a mixture of blue and black, and I used that quite a bit in my mixtures for this painting.

For the emerging sunlight, the challenge is to make the lights LIGHT enough, but not the same light as full daylight.

Once I was up and had a hot coffee in hand, this painting came together quickly. I set my easel up on the rocks outside the cabin, and by mid-afternoon, the painting was close to finished.

Those late August days can have quite cool nights when you are in the near north, like the Lake Nipissing area. Often you will see the mist rise from the water in the morning.

I was very pleased with this piece, which captures that beautiful time of day we call twilight, when the day is not yet here, and some of the mystery and the magic of the night remains.

Painting the marshes on Lake Nipissing

While staying at Memquisit Lodge on Lake Nipissing this summer, I decided to paint the marsh close to our cabin.

I love these marshes — they are home to a lot of wildlife, and if you pay attention, you will often see a Great Blue Heron.

They are a very challenging subject to paint.

The water in a marsh is usually quite a dark green, in part because there are many weeds just below the surface, as well as algae and so forth. On this day, the sky was quite overcast, making for a rather dark painting.

Although waves tend to disappear in a marsh because the weeds protect it, any little breeze will make the water riffle.

The water lilies are beautiful, as is the pickerel weed (that’s the blue flower) and the other marsh plants. I did see a Great Blue Heron here one day, and also the head of a large turtle, and a number of frogs. Beneath the surface there are many fingerling fish.

I think they are beautiful, which is a good thing, because the Canadian Shield landscape has many marshes!

Painting Lake Nipissing from Memquisit Lodge

I had two glorious weeks in a small cabin at Memquisit Lodge on Lake Nipissing this summer. We were situated at the end of a rocky outcropping, with a marsh on one side and the lovely West Bay of Lake Nipissing on the other.

We did a little bit of hiking, explored the towns nearby on the days with poor weather, and had a campfire almost every night.  Many nights the sky was clear, even though the evenings were cold, and the stars were magnificent. We also paddled around the nearby islands and bays.

Needless to say, I painted most days. The lake itself is beautiful, and surprisingly calm for such a large lake. Probably because we were in the relatively sheltered West Bay area, where there are many islands.

This first painting was based on impressions, and some hastily taken photos from my phone, while we were kayaking along. I love the rocks of the Canadian Shield, and never tire of painting them.



Below Ritchie Falls, Spring – making a painting

One of my favorite places in Haliburton is Ritchie Falls, a small waterfall park where you can scramble among the rocks and trees. Looking up at the falls or down at the swirling water below the falls are both very pleasurable activities, especially on a hot day.

Lots of people use the spot for picnics, and even swimming. And with so many great places to set up on the rocks, in some shade, it is also a popular spot for plein air painting.

I took several pictures there in the spring, and made some charcoal sketches from them.  This one had a design and value structure I liked a lot, so I also sketched some possible colors for the painting.

I was focusing on the value structure in the scene, reducing the complexity of the environment to big shapes, with a combination of hard and soft edges. The brushwork is lively, expressive of a moment in time with bright light in some places, deep shadow in others, and constant changes of wind, leaves, and water.

I was very pleased with this painting, which is currently hanging in my home, but will be included in some fall shows in the local area. I don’t expect I will have it long, and will be sorry to see this one find a new home.

Thanks for stopping by.

Back to Ritchie Falls to paint waterfalls

acrylic painting of water patterns below waterfalls

Below the Falls

Another beautiful spot for painting in Haliburton is Ritchie Falls. I’ve painted there a few times before, and was keen to go back. I was very interested in the patterns in the water made by the bubbles as they floated down from the falls.

This is me with my painting music stuffed into a pocket, working on a charcoal drawing to lay in the big masses before starting to paint.


The painting that resulted, called Below the Falls, is an acrylic on wood panel. It has an oriental feel to me that I quite like.



Painting the rapids in Haliburton

I had a wonderful painting trip to Haliburton again this year. We rented a cottage in the old fashioned Chateau Woodlands Estates — more of a cabin, really. A 1950’s style resort. Easy access to many good painting locations, and I thought I would tell you about a few here.

painting of red rocks with tree trunks in front of light green rapids

Rocks and Rapids 1

One of the most gorgeous sites was at the Wildwater Reserve. This is a site for whitewater kayaking competitions, and the rapids were fierce and beautiful. We saw a number of talented kayakers navigating the water. Amazingly, they often waved at me! (I would not have thought they could take their eyes off for a moment!)kayakers-in-rapids SG-Abbott-painting-at-rapids-haliburton

I love anything with wild roots and rocks, so this location had plenty of that to choose from. The water filled with bubbles was tremendously challenging to interpret.

The first day painting there I created the piece at the top of this post, called Rocks and Rapids 1.

We went back again another day, and I found a different vantage point. A bit more crowded with people, but one advantage of the rapids is that they create a tremendous amount of background noise, plus cool the air around you. Perfect conditions for painting on a hot day! You see I am well protected in the shade.

These are all acrylic paintings on panels, and will be posted to the galleries shortly. All are for sale, of course.

painting-at-wildwater-2 painting-at-wildwater-reserve

Two more paintings emerged that day. Rocks and Rapids 2, where I pulled out the bluish colors in the rocks and the red of the cedars on the far side of the river. These standing waves were the target for the best kayakers.

blue rocks with green whitewater rapids and orange cedar trees in the background

Rocks and Rapids 2

The next one, The Red Maples, drew on the color of the trunks of these young maples and the vibrant green of the grasses below. It’s a patch of calm beside all this wild water.

Whitewater rapids in the background with tall young red maples on a field of green grass

The Red Maples

Painting in a field


There’s an organic market and demonstration garden in the country just outside Haliburton, with beautiful fields all around. A gravel pit was just behind the market garden, and on a weekend, no one was working. The weather was quite unsettled, but the colors of the fields and the trees were spectacular.

I enjoyed capturing the many colored wild flowers and grasses at the edge of the fields. The ochre colored grasses on the hill in the background were what originally caught my attention – when the sun was still shining – so this is called The Yellow Field.

I may do a larger studio painting based on this plein air study — it’s such an expansive view it seems to warrant a bigger canvas.


Painting the Bruce Peninsula

I’m just back from two weeks off the grid (no internet! no e-mail!) of glorious painting on the Bruce Peninsula. This wonderful location is bordered on Georgian Bay on one side, and Lake Huron on the other, and has a landscape that really appeals to me. The Niagara Escarpment, a rock formation that runs south to Niagara Falls, has created many beautiful cliffs and bays on the peninsula.

Here are a few of the painting locations, kindly documented by my husband Bruce.

My work is inspired by the landscape, not an attempt to capture it in a realistic or photographic way.

Getting started with a coffee in hand, a crucial part of my painting routine!

Getting started with a coffee in hand, a crucial part of my painting routine!


This was the dock at our rented cottage, overlooking a quiet lagoon. I created several paintings on different days, different light conditions. Often too windy to use the umbrella, so the light was often a challenge — blindingly bright.


Another spot on the cottage property, this time trying to get some shelter from the sun and heat.

There is a lovely access point to Bruce Peninsula National Park that you reach by walking an easy half-kilometer path. There are lovely rocks and coves, small islands, and it’s also a great place to swim.

Unfortunately, in the afternoons, stable flies are a nuisance here.

The start of a painting - this is just inside Bruce Peninsula National Park, and a popular spot for a cooling swim.

The start of a painting – this is just inside Bruce Peninsula National Park, and a popular spot for a cooling swim.

The finished painting.

The finished painting.

Many people visit Flowerpot Island every year, named for the large pillar formations formed by eroded limestone. We walked to the far side of the island, where the old lighthouse-keepers cottage is located, and I enjoyed painting the large rocks there.

That's me at my easel in the centre background, trying to capture the forms of a large rock.

That’s me at my easel in the centre background, trying to capture the forms of a large rock.

On the Lake Huron side is Singing Sands beach at Dorcas Bay. This huge beach is very shallow. Too shallow for adults to enjoy swimming there, it seems to be an endless series of shallow sand bars. Very popular with young families. I was enjoying the tiny vivid yellow flowers and red grasses, as well as the dunes.

Painting the dunes at Singing Sands

Painting the dunes at Singing Sands

A more whimsical painting of the beach, with some bathers visible in the background

A more whimsical painting of the beach, with some bathers visible in the background

Little Cove is a beautiful spot in the National Park that is marred by only a couple of small chunks of private land. We encountered some wild weather there, and I had to move to avoid getting wet feet!

The round shapes in the rocks seen in the second photo are apparently formed when the great weight of a glacier pressing down on the rock is released due to melting, and the rock springs back. Very challenging to capture in a painting, but quite inspiring.


Painting at Little Cover, note the waves starting to encroach.

Circular wave shapes in the rock caused by melting glaciers

Circular wave shapes in the rock caused by melting glaciers

So now I just have to get busy and get images up on the site here to show you! It was a fantastic trip, and I painted almost every day.

On location in Haliburton at A Brush with the Highlands Plein Air Painting Festival

This is a photo taken at the 2011 plein air painting festival (A Brush with the Highlands), after I had finished painting, so the light had changed quite significantly. But here’s what I was looking at. I love these groves of trees, they never fail to capture my attention.

This is a photo of the installation for the juried show at A Brush With the Highlands in 2012. I’m in good company in between two pieces by artist Sheila Davis, which won awards. For this part of the show, one can only submit pieces that were completed during the three day festival. We had exceptionally warm weather, so being in the shade was essential!