At the end of July, I spent a week in Canada as part of the 2016 Legendeer Expedition and Workshop. I found out about Legendeer right before their 2015 workshop and was so sad to miss it, and so I was determined to make this one. Legendeer was started by artist and illustrator, Sterling Hundley, the freaking nicest man you will ever meet. His goal was to help artists live out their best story, make awesome art and then share it with the world. What I knew about it beforehand was that a whole bunch of artists (painters, photographers, filmmakers, writers and many more) got together in an amazing place, learned from some fantastic instructors, and made art in the woods. Sounds great, right? This all, in fact, did happen on our expedition, but it was so much more than that.
We began our trip in Calgary, where we started making new friends with our expedition group. There were 22 students, 6 mentors, and 2 guides. We headed West to Banff National Park where we camped for the next two days. I was immediately blown away by the size and beauty of the landscape. Our first excursion was to Johnston Canyon, which features a catwalk that runs through the canyon allowing you to follow the water course more closely. As we walked, we talked and learned more about each other all while geaking out about art, pictures and fascinating details of the landscape.
The next day, half the crew went on a big hike to Lake Borgeau, while the rest of us opted for the more mellow stroll through the woods with more time for painting. We all delighted in this creek at the midway point and stopped here for about an hour to paint. By day 2, the conversations were already deep, insightful and encouraging. We still didn't know exactly what we were there to accomplish, but as a group, we were enjoying each other's company, going crazy about the landscape, and sharing tricks, tips and process of our art. I never knew hanging out with a group of artists in the woods could be this fun.
This is one page of my sketchbook from Day 2 on our hike. I recently added the color indigo to my travel watercolor palette and it has made a world of difference to my paintings. One of the important lessons I learned while on Legendeer was that a sketchbook is a tool. It is not a finished work of art and it does not have to be perfect. This is practice. This is so I can get paint or a sketch down quickly to remember it, express a feeling at that moment, record a thought, or try out new techniques. When you put all these practice pieces together, along with all the scribbles, doodles, and writing, it does become beautiful though. I now look fondly on this sketchbook as a time capsule. I don't need to buy souvenirs to take home to remember a place - I just need to look at this book and all the memories come flooding back.
On Day 3, we packed up from Banff and got into our vans to drive North to Jasper National Park. Along the way we stopped at Lake Louise to enjoy the infamous scenery. Sure everyone and their dog has their picture taken there (believe me, I've taken a picture of my dog here), but it is gorgeous. We all hiked up, some of us made it to the Lake Agnes Tea House, some of us made it to the Big Beehive and others just made it to the coffee shop. But we all had a delightful time, taking pictures, painting or drawing.
We also made a stop at Athabasca Glacier. This immense glacier, is not so immense as it once was having shrunk a great deal since the 1980s. There are markers along the walk up to it that show how far out the glacier toe once was. It's a 10 minute walk from where 1982 was until you actually can touch ice. Still, this picture doesn't do it justice in terms of size. It is massive, and this is just the very edge of the incredible Columbia Icefield behind it. I hope I can come back one day to do a glacier tour and be out on it.
Day 4 put us at Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park. You may have heard of this lake because of all the famous pictures of Spirit Island. I did not go to Spirit Island, instead I opted to take my little travel chair and park it on the shore and paint that snow clad mountain in the background. I painted for 3 hours and had the most delightful time. All the while, my fellow Legendeers were scampering about the lake, on canoe or foot, taking pictures, shooting video, painting, drawing or maybe even napping. By this point in the trip, we were all getting very little sleep, but we were so amped on everything we saw, that we were caught up in the excitement and went with the flow. Also this day, we saw lots of bears and baby bears, even a momma bear up a tree with her cub teaching him how to climb. They are so freaking cute and you want to grab them and squeeze them and never let them go. But don't do that. That's a very, very bad idea.
In the evenings, back at camp, we would sit around talking about our work, the directions we want to head, our problems, fears, and our dreams. We chatted with mentors, asking questions, pitching ideas and getting feedback. Over the course of the trip, I grew to love each and every person there. Sure they are all quirky - we're artists, of course we're quirky - but their passion, dedication, intelligence, and warm hearts made me appreciate them for who they were. Every single person on this trip is incredibly talented, but not one of them is pretentious. We became cheerleaders of each other's work, and even now that we've gone home, we're all communicating regularly, asking how things are going, and reminding each other of the excitement and stoke we had on the trip. This is my tribe and I'm so grateful to have found them.
On Day 5, we had to drive back to Calgary, but we made some lovely stops along the way at some brilliant blue lakes and waterfalls. Each stop was beautiful and made us wish we had another week to explore. Driving in Canada takes some time though - what looks like a little distance on the map, is really quite far. But car rides afforded us more time to chat with friends, and even a take quick nap or two. Here I am at Bow Lake in front of Bow Glacier. And yes, the water is in fact that blue - I didn't saturate it in post at all.
Upon returning to Calgary and the Alberta College of Art and Design, we managed this haphazard group shot, minus our instructors and mentors. A big thanks to our two intrepid guides, Veronika and Dimitri, for putting up with us, keeping us to a schedule (or at least trying), feeding us, taking us on great walks, and generally keeping us safe from bears. This motley crew here is my family now. We are all scattered around the globe at this point, but we are connected in spirit for sure and hopefully I will see you all again at the next Legendeer - if not the expedition, then definitely the workshop.
For the two-day workshop back in Calgary, even more people arrived to take part in the lectures, break out sessions, and chances to talk with even more mentors and instructors. Workshops in funding, selling your art online, and mark making gave us tools to add to our quiver to help succeed in the art world. Meanwhile, talks about film, art, photography, film screenings and Q&As inspired us to go out into the world and make cool shit. I mean that's really the whole point of Legendeer, to equip artists with tools and inspiration to go make art in the world. Their tag line is to "Embed artists back into the world," - to make art a part of life, to engage others, and participate in the world, not just hide in your studio. This was an important lesson for me. Here, I'm getting my picture taken with one of the Legendeer founders and fine artist, Adam Paquette, as well as my art and adventure hero Jeremy Collins.
One of the best activities of our workshop weekend was the spoken word exercise with Robalu Gibsun. Seriously check out this guy's work - amazing. He asked us to come up with a whole bunch of words randomly that we shouted out to him. He wrote all of them down - even words like "charismatic megafauna," "fuck it," and "bear jam." There were some good poetic words in there too. We all spent 5 minutes writing a paragraph, a poem, or a thought and then some of us got up to speak aloud and share. Considering most of us were visual artists, these spoken word pieces were exquisite, thoughtful, and conveyed so much emotion. Tears people, there were so many tears.
By the end of the week, I was pretty much exhausted, but it was all so incredible. We stayed up late each night hanging out with each other, and it was hard to go to bed and miss out on any potential fun or mind-bending conversations. But alas we had to say goodbye. There were tears there too. Gratefully, I didn't have to fly home the next day, but instead, Matt picked me up in Calgary with the camper and Cooper and we went back to Banff for 9 more days (more about that later).
I learned so much this week about myself, about other people, about artists, about art. I learned that the end result of a painting isn't exactly the point, but the process it took you to get there is pretty damn important. I learned I am doing great and I am exactly where I need to be. But I also learned where I want to go with it all, or at least the general direction. I learned community really fucking matters and that I should stop being an island. I learned I want to collaborate with people.