South Edmonton Farm

“Art is harmony parallel with nature.” Paul Cezanne

“Why do you draw farms?” I’ve been asked many times and I don’t have a pat answer. I could explain that I love all the different shaped buildings that sit nestled into the landscape, surrounded by trees as a windbreak, the peacefulness, the sounds of animals, the companionship of the wind, the air of industry, honesty, hard work, love. But most people don’t understand. If I give them my whole answer, I see their eyes glaze over, I see them lose interest after couple of sentences. So I end up saying something like, “I think farms are pretty.” And they smile and nod and say “Cool,” but have no real understanding of my motivation. And sometimes emotion defies logic. We love what we love, we feel what we feel. Trying to explain art is like trying to explain why we cuddle with babies. It’s a feeling that’s both complex and simple at the same time. It fills us up inside. It feeds us in a way that nothing else does. It allows us to touch a part of people that is otherwise inaccessible. It allows us to be a colorful part of the human experience.

I drew the sketch for this painting south of Edmonton on a warm summer day. I was a couple of months pregnant, not enough to be uncomfortable, just enough to be frightened of what might happen in the future. My young husband was outside of the car doing tai chi in the ditch alongside the country road. We went on many trips like this, driving in the country with no real idea where we were going, only stopping when I saw the perfect composition. And I do love this composition. The way the lines of the plowed field worms over the uneven landscape, the earthy road, the fence posts at different heights, the small windmill, the red barn. This sketch became one of my favorite paintings ever. And in the painting, every color that vibrates against another is love, And every line that gracefully curve around a shape is love. And that’s what I want to create. I want people to feel the love I have inside, the naked, raw, embarrassing truth of who I am deep down, my own gratefulness for this gift of life. 

This sketch and the painting can be downloaded at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com. And the video below shows the drawing of the downloadable coloring page.

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Dit Dot

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“The aim of art is to represent, not the outward appearance of things, but their inner significance.” Aristotle

For about five years I lived in North Carolina with my husband and our two sons. The landscape there has it’s own particular beauty as all places do, but I found myself less inspired to my artwork than I was in Alberta, probably due to the fact that I was working nights, going to nursing school days, and still breast feeding the baby. But every now and then, I packed the boys in the car and we drove to the coast which was only about half a mile away. We often went to the water’s edge and walked along it, listening to the waves roll in and tasting the salt.

One Christmas, we took the boys to the beach. It was so warm I wore shorts and my older son splashed in the water. I sat in the sand with my infant son feeling the cool water wash over our legs. People walked by us and I noticed they had parkas on which I found strange because the weather was so warm. But they were giving me dirty looks and I realized they thought I was a bad mother for letting my children into the water and I wanted to shout “I’m not a bad mother, I’m just Canadian.”

This sketch was drawn on such a warm day from a wharf in Beaufort, North Carolina. It was my first attempt at painting water and I loved the curved horizon line. The boats bobbed in the cool water, air blew in from the ocean, outer bank islands were visible in the distance where, on a good day, you can still see the wild horses.

Of course, this was the Sound, not the ocean but I still have trouble understanding the difference between the “sound” and open water because it seems to me that it’s all ocean. My older son was likewise confused. He put it very succinctly when he said with his lisp, “Why ith it a thound? I don’t hear it.”

We saw the little, purple boat that had the words “Dit Dot” painted across the back. Dit Dot, it was explained to me, was the name the locals gave to the non locals, the tourists with their cameras and strange accents. I was a Dit Dot, apparently. And this painting, is a commemoration of that time in my life when I was the boat, drifting on waves, and wondering what wind would push me towards shore.

Watch this video to see the sketch of the dit dot painting.

Thank You Edith

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Edith Cavell was a nurse in World War One in Brussels. I can’t imagine being a nurse during that time when there were no antibiotics, where men who were wounded beyond repair were often left to die, where amputations were performed without morphine, and the sound of gunfire rang in the background. This was the first war where nerve gases were used so men suffered horrible effects even if they wore their gas masks.

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I try to put myself in Edith’s place. Dividing men into four groups: gas injuries, shell shock, diseases, and wounds. And I wonder how helpless she felt when she could do nothing to help the men in her care, save for the solace of holding their hand or giving them a sip of water. I wonder how many men were reminded, in their last hours, of their mother or a sister simply because she was there for them.

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I have been a nurse for a number of years and I have many different ways of treating patients. When I go to work, my hospital is clean, and quiet, and my patients have doctors to oversee their care and nursing attendants to clean up their mess. I get my scheduled break and I’m paid well. But what did Edith have? She had scores of men who cried, who stunk, who were covered in lice, who had STDs, who begged for food, for relief from pain, for death. Often the soldiers were left waiting for the primitive medical care available and died, leaving behind corpses teaming with bacteria. Schools and churches had to be turned into make shift hospitals. Many treatments were in their infancy such as x-rays which were available but not for the bulk of the wounded. Imagine receiving a large facial wound, taking away part of your jaw and nose and having none of the surgical reconstruction available today and prosthetics only in it’s infancy.

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Nurses had to learn to treat trench fever or trench foot caused by poor weather and dirty conditions. They had to learn new technologies which included ad hoc blood transfusions and administrations of new anesthetics, surgeries, and sedatives. A young, unmarried woman would join the volunteer nurse corps and have to learn about elixir of opium and morphine suphate, cocaine hydrochloride and camphor. This was the first war where nurses could administer these medications and it often saved lives or comforted the dying.

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In all of my nursing training, I learned nothing about Edith Cavell. I wish I had one class where I could have done a presentation on a historic nurse. I would have chosen her. She is one of my heroes, she represents all that is good in the profession. Nurses at that time had to learn to work long hours with little time left for sleep, they were surrounded by pathogens, they were not afforded the status of officers and their authority could be undermined by any male of rank. And even the diligent care they gave did not stop the most deadly illness of the entire war, the Spanish flu.

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All of the people in these images are dead. The person who took the photos are dead. And they died for us. All we have are the whispers of their presence and the vow that we will never forget.

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I imagine what it was like for Edith Cavell and thousands of nurses just like her. I imagine looking down into the face of a man who was going to be executed and wonder how I could help him, wonder if I would be willing to sacrifice my life to save his. Could I face the terror that the Germans instilled like she did, the anger she no doubt felt that such horror existed in the world at the hands of man. As a nurse I would like to think I would help him escape. But I really don’t know what I would do. But she didn’t hesitate. After helping hundreds of men escape, she must have had some close calls, terrified at the near miss of being identified as treacherous. She must have known that helping those men would bring the punishment of death, she saw the horrors of what the Germans did every day. She knew, but she helped them anyway. She knew she would never see her family again, she knew she would never marry or have children, And she knew that what she was doing was right. So she sacrificed everything, like an estimated 16 million men and women did. She did it for us so that we would not have to relive this in our lifetimes. And I thank you Edith. I thank you for giving your life. I thank you for the freedom I have. Thank you. You are remembered.

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North Edmonton Church

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“Art is a lie that makes us realize truth,” Pablo Picasso

I love churches.

A strange admission from someone who’s not religious at all. I have hundreds of drawings of churches. Every time I see a steeple on the horizon, I find myself heading towards it and pulling out a piece of scrap paper to capture the image. Churches seem to have a freedom of architecture that other buildings don’t have.  Churches don’t have encumbrances for living such as number of bedrooms and walk in closets. The main function of a church is for community and I think that can be seen in their shape. And they make such a lovely silhouette against the sky. The negative space is often more interesting than other shapes in the world.

This church was sitting on the edge of a small valley, overlooking plowed wheat fields that traced their lines over every mound, every hill, golden canola waiting for harvest, a sea of mustard yellow that smelled like vinegar.

And the leaves, the beautiful leaves dropping to the earth and scrambling around on the road like lemmings, every color imaginable. I sat in my car looking at this scene and knew I had to draw it. Some people sketch in sketch books but I never did. I sketched on napkins. So I pulled a napkin from the glove box and drew this picture.

When I draw, I want to capture the beauty of a moment in time, specifically the moments that fill me with peace; make me grateful to be alive. And now I will forever have a record of that day, of something grand that I can point to and say “This is what I love.”

This painting and the sketch it originated from are available for download at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com

This video shows the creation of the coloring page of the church above.

Northern Lights in Alberta

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“Art is not what you see but what you make others see” Edgar Degas

Northern Alberta, the land of rolling hills covered with the stubble of aspen and spruce. Spiky branches pressed up against the blue sky. Landscape thick with wild rose and saskatoon shrubs. Standing water crowded near the edge with thousands of pale, green blades. Miles of disheveled terrain laced with dirt roads. A place where, if you get stranded by an unreliable vehicle, you might have the minor inconvenience of hitch hiking back to town or the major inconvenience of fighting off a bear. A place of moose and muskeg, of bald eagles and wolf calls. A place where the trees remind us what it’s like to be wild.

I lived in Northern Alberta for a short time just after the birth of my first son. My husband took a remote teaching job and we moved, towing all our meager belongings in a poorly maintained red Capri to a place where I knew no one. And what is a lonely woman to do but draw pictures of her surroundings?

This painting was originally drawn when we lived on John D’or Prairie Indian Reserve. Even though it was a June night, the air was crisp enough to send my breath upwards in frosty plumes of vapor. And I could still see the sparkle of frost on every surface.

That’s when I saw the northern lights streaming across the sky.

I tucked my infant son into a baby carrier, wrapped a warm jacket around us both, and headed into the chilly night.

The lights were so unbelievably beautiful. Some things in life are beyond the confines of language. I sat in awe beneath them, so grateful to be its witness. My son wrinkled his forehead as he peered upwards. Not yet able to smile, he leaned his head back to study the crackling lights, looking, for all the world, like he was analyzing them.

We sat there in the cold, watching the lights as our breath disappeared into the air as silently and heart breakingly as the days pass away, as the years and even our lives pass. All of them drifting upwards and melting into nothing. I held my son and knew that nothing could replace that time with him and that those moments are the glue and mortar that make up our lives. All we can do is appreciate those moments, to own them. As I looked down on my son’s beautiful face, I felt that ownership. And that’s why I paint, so that I can own those times that I love. He has such a lovely face and he will endure hardship because we all do. But at that moment, we owned the time together under the northern lights.

Time is our most precious resource, nothing can replace it or bring it back or buy us more. We can only sit and enjoy the majesty of the world and be grateful for the gift of sight. That is our reward.

That’s where I drew this picture. Sitting on a mound of dried grass, holding my son with one hand while I drew with the other.  Only my baby and I, in the darkness, sitting silently and breathing air just cold enough to make us feel alive.

The finished drawing and painting can be downloaded at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com and the video below shows the creation of the coloring page.