John D’or Prairie Home

“The Artist sees what others only catch a glimpse of.” Leodardo Da Vinci

I spent much of my youth wanting a different family. Maybe everyone does, I don’t really know. But I wanted something different. All around me I could see happy families, families with both a mother and a father and smiling children. They’d play games together, and sing songs and help each other with homework. They always had clean clothes and clean homes and every toy they could imagine lined up neatly on their shelves. Not like our house with the mountain of smelly laundry on the concrete basement floor of our subsidized home, our welfare palace, our monument to poverty. Dirty faces, once weekly baths, home grown haircuts and hand me down clothes that had to last through four children. And a mother who was too tired from facing the world to see that our unhappiness was the same as hers.

So I created a dream family. We lived on a farm. And that’s where I wanted to be. A green place where I could listen to the quiet, rather than hearing the bedlam of the inner city. I wanted to be Laura Ingalls Wilder, to live in the country with animals and great, broad expanses of prairie around me. I should have been born years ago on the rim of the great frontier, a pioneer full of strength and heartiness. Just like Laura Ingalls.

My greatest wish was to own all of her books. My mother couldn’t buy them for me but at the end of every school year there was a book fair. And if I got good grades, she let me buy one book. So I made it my focus in life to get them all. And through hard work, I got my yearly reward. I had already read them. I spent most of my time in the library. But I wanted a set of books for myself so I could read them whenever I wanted and not have to return them.

I remember playing at a friend’s house and up on a shelf by the door, I noticed a full set of the Laura Ingalls books. They were still in the original plastic. I pointed at them. “Wow, nice.” I said “Oh yeah.” She shrugged. “I got them last Christmas but I don’t really like reading.” And I placed a hand over my heart. How could you get such a wonderful gift and not read it? How could you not love Laura Ingalls? I did eventually achieve my goal. Seven long years and I finally had all the books. By the time I bought the last book in the series, the first book was tattered from so many readings.

Dissatisfaction with life is a difficult habit to break. It followed me into adulthood. So when I got married, I wanted to make things right. I clutched the opportunity to start a new life with my husband. We were going to be the perfect family I had always wanted. I tumbled into the promise of a wonderful future with arms open wide. My children would have all the books and toys they could dream of. We’d eat dinner every night around the table and the house would be clean and there would be enough for everyone so we wouldn’t have to fight over scraps. And when we moved to John D’or Prairie that was when my wonderful new life would begin. I couldn’t believe my luck that we were moving to the country. My life was going to be perfect. At least that’s what I thought in my sweet, optimistic, naive heart.

We moved with our baby son to a place that seemed like the end of the earth. No paved roads, miles from any town, living with strangers in a place flavored with generations of bitterness. And watching eyes wherever we went. No, people, but the feeling of eyes followed us everywhere.

My only solace during that time on the reserve was my art. Artwork puts me into a place of serenity. And that’s where my drawings live. And that’s where I go when I see them. When I make my art, I can feel the bottom. I can touch the source of all that we are, all that makes us the same, all that connects us with each other. I see art and I see infinity. On the reserve, my drawing took my mind away from my loneliness, and made me feel the warm wetness of life all around me.

I had to sketch this John D’or Prairie home. As soon as I saw it, I had to. The satellite dish sat right next to the outhouse. And much like all the other homes on the reserve, it was an interesting mix of modern and ancient.

We didn’t spend much time at John D’or Prairie. Four months or so. Long enough to understand that moving to new surroundings doesn’t change much of anything but our surroundings. If you’re running away from sadness, you don’t leave that sadness behind, you take it with you, the heaviest of baggage.

I’ve come home now, after many years away. Enough time has passed to put lines on my face and streaks in my hair. I’ve returned to the place I wanted to escape as a child, waiting in the starting blocks for the gun to go off so I could run away from it as fast as I could. I returned to this place and the place is the same but I am not. And the thing I discovered is that we are what we love, not what we fear. But here is the unique miracle of our existence. Of all the creatures that have ever risen and fallen on this tiny round stone travelling through nothing-we are able to choose. Imagine an alligator deciding one day to be a vegetarian. It can’t happen. Alligators don’t have the capacity to choose. But we do. We can choose. We can wake up every day and choose. So what do we choose? Some choose anger, some bitterness, some loneliness. But some, far too few, choose peace and happiness and love. And every day we all have the same day, the same now, the same choice. No matter what our outer circumstances, we can choose how we regulate the inner world where we live. And today I choose here. And I choose now. And I choose love.

This drawing and many more can be downloaded at dalegreenearts@bigcartel.com

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Fort Macleod

“If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing.” Marc Chagall

Four years ago, my sister and I started driving, not knowing where we were going. We lived in Edmonton, the most beautiful place in Alberta, probably the country, maybe the world. We drove south using only the secondary highways which took us through charming small towns. We called it our “White Trash” holiday. Our goal was to visit every dollar store and Wal-mart in every town small enough to have a water tower. We made friendship bracelets peppered with clay beads. We read romance novels. We did sudoku and crosswords badly. We drank specialty coffees in the morning with nothing but the sky for company. We ate pop rocks and licorice and listened to music.

Fort Macleod was one of the places we visited. We camped for a night outside the town in a tiny site nestled against the Old Man River. The town used to be an RCMP barracks and the old Fort Museum is still there to tell the story of our early days in this country. The main drag through town has rows of buildings, many still have the false fronts from the pioneer days to make them look bigger.

We had all the things we needed in our car; a small propane stove, air mattresses, sleeping bags, tents. We traveled around like turtles, carrying our home with us. What a glorious existence to be a nomad. We had no idea where we were going at any given time. We woke up in the morning and said “Where do we want to go today?” And that’s where we went.

Fort Macleod sits just west of Lethbridge, riding high on the prairie like a boat on the swells. I imagine any person who ever saw the landscape felt the same awe and love for the expansive green fields, the largeness of the blue sky laced with filmy clouds, warm winds that embrace. The calmness of the small town local who asks for nothing from you but will give you a smile, hold open a door, ask how you’re doing and really mean it.

I started drawing years ago as a way of documenting the things in the world that are the most beautiful. And Alberta is certainly beautiful. I began to make drawings of anything that struck me, usually an interesting composition. I looked back at my drawings after a 20 year hiatus and saw them as stepping stones sprinkled across a river. They became a path for me to find myself, to be reminded of the reason we are here. And that reason is, love. Love is the only thing that makes Art in any form, it’s the key ingredient to any thing in the world that’s worth doing, the essential component to anything with which we might occupy our time.

When I looked back at the years that have passed and all the many things that have immersed me, I realized that love was often missing from my most important relationships. I had forgotten love. And I can’t go back and live those days again. Those grains of sand have passed me by and I can only learn to forgive myself for my coldness as much as I learn to triumph in my warmth. I see those failings of mine, those days when I was at my lowest and needed a kind word and I decided to put my drawings out for the world. And maybe people might see the same thing about themselves. We’re all human and I know we’re all guilty of the same failings. But we can reach out to each other in our times of need and offer that smile that asks for nothing in return. We can say “How are you doing?” and listen quietly for the answer.

This image is available for download at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com

Athabasca Railway

“Every Artist was first an amateur.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I first saw Athabasca years ago with my husband. He took me there a few months after our wedding to meet his parents. Of course, his parents didn’t live in town. Like most retirees, they lived in a year round cabin outside of the city. But is Athabasca a city? I have no idea. All I know is it isn’t large enough to have a Wal-mart.

The Athabasca Railway building is situated on 50th Ave, the main drag through Athabasca right by the river front park. I don’t actually know if it’s a railway building. The sign outside says Visitor Centre so I’m pretty sure people visit there. But the building looks alike a railway station so that’s what I’m calling it. You can see the sketch for yourself and decide.

Athabasca is a small town settled on the Athabasca river. It was a trading port and the river used to be instrumental in the trade routes. Imagine large wooden boats sitting low in the water and large, unwashed viking sized men rowing on either side. That’s what it used to be like in the early days in Athabasca. Or at least it might have been like that. I just made that all up. But it seems likely.

The river is pretty massive and, in winter, ice creeps over the edges until it meets in the middle and the river is frozen solid. All around, rolling hills covered in shrubs wash over the landscape like an ocean. Hard working people live there, people willing to eek out a subsistence living from the stony earth.

I loved it the moment I saw it with my young husband. He took me on a tour of the town. And whenever we visited there, we took the same route that became familiar to me. Every friendly home and building sat still, frozen in time, as if waiting for me to come back. We drove around all the same places, the rooming house where his mother grew up, the old brick school house, and the Burger Bar before we drove out to Island Lake where his parents lived. And we always passed the house that had the mechanical moose standing out front.

Writing about Athabasca is hard for me because I drove there about a year ago to put some of my husband’s ashes in the lake. We had spent so much time driving around the dirt roads on quads and swimming in the cool water. Fires by the shore, fireworks reflected in the glassy surface on Canada Day. I think the main reason I don’t like to go back there is because I see remnants of those memories everywhere and I’m reminded that they meant more to me than to him. I’m reminded of times when we were loving and times when we were not. I’m reminded of arguments and embraces and despair and anger and passion. But those things are over now. And every time I feel the ghostly fingers pulling me back, my heart is broken all over again. Holding on to them does no good. So I have to let them go and let him go. And now I realize that when I visit a place that holds onto echoes of his short life, it pricks a hole in the bottom of my happiness and washes it away.

I drove there that last time with our son in the car. We walked down to the lake front with a few friends and family in attendance and put pieces of him in the edge of the water. And I had to smile so they didn’t see how the burden of facing his memories weighed me down. I wanted to go on that tour of town again, the one we used to take every visit but I couldn’t. We left Athabasca and my son fell asleep on the way home. I’m happy he fell asleep because I didn’t want him to see me cry.

So many lovely scenes sit just waiting for my hand to put them on paper. “Make us immortal,” they whisper to me. I truly love the place. But I’ve never been back since that last visit and I’ll never go there again. I have pointed my life elsewhere and this drawing is one of a thousand memories I carry with me.

This drawing can be downloaded at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com


Sunset

“Painting is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do.” Edgar Degas

Alberta is such a beautiful place. I’ve said this to many people and I’ve often been corrected. “You haven’t seen Paris,” they say. And they shake their heads, maybe roll their eyes, firmly believing in my lack of sophistication. But I feel sorry for them. They’ll probably never visit the cities they recommend to me. And they’ll spend their lives hoping to find happiness somewhere else when I can find it right in front of me.

I see beauty everywhere. I see color, and light, and composition. No matter where I am, I can see it. What a sad situation most people are in because they don’t realize they can see it too. Seeing the world in this way is the reason I started painting. My goal is to remind people of the beauty that surrounds us every day. If they see what I see, maybe they’ll remember it too.

The prairie sky is infinitely charming. From my childhood until today, I’ve developed a habit of watching the sky which is the most magnificent canvas. Morning and evening the horizon is draped with color, like a gift, colorfully wrapped around the edge of the world. Look away and when you look back it’s already changed. Escape is only as far away as casting your eyes upward.

This farm, near Elk Island Park, was a string of ancient buildings, weather worn and broken in places like people. I’m pretty sure they weren’t being used any longer. And chances are, with Edmonton close in proximity, this farm may no longer exist, building gone, holes filled in waiting to become a golf course or hotel. But the painting still hangs on my wall, bringing me back to that moment when I sat quietly watching the sky change on a warm June day in the country.

Find this sketch and the subsequent painting available for download at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com.

Elk Island Farm

“I dream my painting. And then I paint my dream.” Vincent Van Gogh

Elk Island National Park has always been a part of my life. From the time I was a young child until just a few months ago when I went kayaking on Astotin Lake. 

As an inner city kid living in poverty, my life was anchored in the noise and close quarters of low income housing. But I always had the park with the green smells of the algae, the sounds of the loons calling, the feel of fresh air moving over my skin. Buffalo and elk can be seen close enough to smell their matted fur. Herons and swans gather in flocks. We used to sit on the edges of Astotin Lake and feel the warmth of the sun, the coolness of the water, the grittiness of the sand.

The park is very close to Edmonton but takes on the cloak of a very different world. As a child, and as an adult, I would feel the stressors of life fall away as I leave the city. During one of these trips, I saw this little farm, ducks swimming in the water, every building a different shape, trees losing their leaves, sky as blue as a robin’s egg. So this sketch captured that lovely afternoon and eventually it became a painting. 

This painting has my favorite tree I’ve ever drawn. It’s perky and happy and energetic, and I’ve used it in three other paintings, like I’ve plagiarized myself.

I don’t think it’s an accident that I’m a Laura Ingalls Wilder fan and that I love farms and that the world of country living was something I craved. Such a different life than I had, clinging to the fringes of society, feeling picked on, pointed at, teased, barely tolerated. The poor kid. The welfare kid. 

It was no wonder I saw a farm as paradise. I could be someone else. I could make a new identity. I could be valued for who I was instead of being trapped in the role of leach on society. I used to fantasize about living on a farm. A strange fantasy maybe but even now, decades later, I think about how ideal my life would be living near the earth and animals. And I wish we could live life over again so we could use our hard won wisdom to be better the next time around.

You can find this sketch and the subsequent painting for download at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com

Milk River Farm

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Leonardo da Vinci

I began sketching years ago, long before I realized which direction my life would take. A couple of years ago I began looking at all my old sketches and realized how complex they really are, like I had never given them the credit they deserve. But more importantly, what I found was a visual diary of my life, a record of the places on this earth where my feet have walked. And I saw the footsteps of someone interesting.

Most of the drawings were made on napkins or poorly cared for coil back notebooks that were disintegrating. I had to rescue them. If I had waited a few years more, I might have lost them. So I began a project to pull them out of the realm of the forgotten and bring them back to life. I started a youtube channel to document the revival of the drawings. And I’d like to share them with everyone. I’m not done yet. I should have a couple hundred videos when I’m finished. 

This drawing, the Milk River Farm was drawn, as the name suggests, just outside of Milk River Alberta. I drew it during a camping trip I took with my younger sister. Most often I drew from the car, carefully positioning it so I could see the most beautiful composition. My sister sat in the front seat with me. She had unending patience when it came to my art.

I love going on trips with my little sister. We always look for out of the way places that are devoid of tourists. We usually stop at Fish Lake Provincial Park outside of Drumheller and we’re often the only people there. Such a lonely place. It feels like the end of the world. A place where the sun rises in the morning as a long lost friend. We always bring specialty coffees and every morning we light the propane stove to make a sweet cup of paradise to sit in the company of the air and earth. 

This sketch was drawn during one of these trips. We had awakened and gone to Drumheller for breakfast. We were eating bacon out of styrofoam containers. The world sparkled, droplets of water from the rainfall the night before, cows mooing in the background waiting to become Alberta beef. My sister and I sat in the car munching on sticks of salty bacon while I sketched.

This drawing can be seen on video below. It can also be downloaded as a coloring page at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com.

Houses in the Country

“People discuss my art and pretend to understand as if it were necessary to understand, when it’s simply necessary to love.” Claude Monet

I used to walk.

I put my son in a backpack and walked. When I was lonely or bored or sad, I walked. An the walking took me outside of myself.

We lived on John D’or prairie Indian Reserve and I had the strange experience of not knowing one single person other than my husband and my infant son. My husband was a teacher on the reserve and the teachers were a tight knit group. But I wasn’t one of them. The natives were a tight knit group but I wasn’t one of them either. So I was lonely and I walked. I saw all kinds of homes, some only shacks, some larger all in various stages of repair, some abandoned. I saw few people. But I always had a feeling of being watched. 

I saw these two houses standing together in a sea of long grass that turned and waved in the wind. My son sat in his pack looking at everything in silence. He was the quietest, most studious child. I watched his eyes looking around in awe and I thought how special it is to see something for the first time. And then I realized, it was my first time seeing them too.

It was only after many years that I realized the painting was really a portrait of my husband and I. The pink house in the foreground is my husband, more open, more interesting. and more vibrant. And the yellow house was me, standing in his shadow, drabber, more closed off, plainer.

But much like houses, people’s interiors can’t be seen from the outside. My husband’s effervescent exterior masked his sadness, and my reserved nature covered over a rich imagination and strength that he didn’t have. It took me many years to understand this fact And now that he’s gone, I think back to those times and I wish I could live them again so I could be the kind of wife he needed and we would have been happier.

Find this drawing and the subsequent painting at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com available for download.