Thursday, January 5, 2017

Sydenham Sycamore

"Sydenham Sycamore"  oil on canvas 20 x 24 in.
20 September 2016 found me on the bank of the Sydenham River, 4.3 km southeast of Alvinston, Ontario, painting the joined double trunks of a huge Sycamore tree as Fred waded the shallows, searching for freshwater mussels. 
This part of the Sydenham River flows through land that has recently been acquired for conservation by Ontario Nature, and we were there with staff and volunteers to survey the river for its general biodiversity and rare mussel species.  
This spot was perfect for the first of two paintings that commissioned by Ontario Nature.
I set up my easel as close to the edge of the clay bank as possible, fascinated by the big old leaning Sycamore, its roots undercut by the river, its leafy crown towering high above the other river-edge trees - and how the mottled bark of its younger trunk was as smooth as my arm, while the bark of its main trunk was dark and scaly.

Down in the river there was much excitement as the first of each species was brought,

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

NEW!! 2017 CALENDAR Aleta Karstad's Water Paintings

My new calendar is out! It has twelve of my favourite river and lake paintings. Some are recent, and some my friends and followers have never seen.

I've heard the comment more than once, "This is your best calendar yet, we love it!" Actually, I think so too, because water, especially moving water, is my favourite subject to paint.

You can see more information and preview the calendar pages by clicking on the image of the calendar in the upper right hand column of the blog, or simply order yours by hitting the blue button.

As usual, the image for the 13th month (January of the next year) is an essay:

Thinking about the Natural Rights of Water
We've been working together for more than 40 years to raise awareness of vulnerable species and habitats across Canada. This year's calendar focuses on the rivers & lakes with which the Canadian landscape is blessed, and where the management of the rest of the landscape is summarized. We dedicate this collection to restored & improved care of waterways in the ongoing reviews of the federal Navigable Waters Protection Act and Fisheries Act.
It's said that People find watery scenes attractive, especially when they feature scattered trees, because this was the preferred habitat of our ancestors as they were becoming human on the African Savanna. As we spread around the globe, we used and interacted with water in diverse ways, and the commercial settlement of North America led to a multitude of abuses of all classes of water bodies: draining of wetlands, channelization & damming of streams, eutrophication of lakes, and introduction of diverse pollutants and alien species into all of these. Many of these abuses are cleaned up now, due to provincial and federal legislation and the active concern of environmental groups and Conservation Authorities, so that most of these paintings are of pristine or recovered sites. Those who hope for healthy waterways must be eternally vigilant for lapses in legislation, regulation, and enforcement, and must seek to apply ecological understanding to every situation. In our Draft of an environmental bill of rights for Ontario1 we included proposed rights for water bodies, and in Principles of Riverine Health,2 Fred proposed that what we’re looking for in a healthy stream is expressions of the consequences of the flow of water.

Oligotrophy: Studies of nutrient flows find that the web of roots and hyphae in mature terrestrial communities extract nutrients  so effectively that they release less of these nutrients in streamflow & ground water than falls as precipitation. One of the primary goals of conventional river conservation has been preventing organic & nutrient pollution, whether from point sources or through runoff or groundwater. The reason such nutrient loading is unnatural is that native aquatic biota is oligotrophic – adapted to water with a low concentration of nutrients.1 There’s minimal nutrient recycling in any particular reach of a river: anything that gets up into the current is lost downstream unless it’s moved back up in the body of some current-breasting creature.
Anthropogenic Toxins: Waterbodies require a rate of deposition of bioaccumulating toxins low enough that these toxins, which concentrate through the long food chains characteristic of aquatic ecosystems, do not produce malformation or illness in the fish, fish-eating Birds, or lactating human mothers.
Oxygenated Hypolimnion: Every dimictic lake should maintain an oxygenated hypolimnion between
the spring & autumnal turnovers of its water, and should be free from pollution by organic material or nutrients when these threaten the oxygenation of its deep water.
Freedom from Over-Capitalized Exploitation: The great danger to fish populations since the commercial settlement of North America has been excessive investment in exploitation, in which stocks are fished beyond their maximum sustainable yield because gear & skill is expected to continue to yield a steady return on investments.

Continuity: As long as rain falls, rivers will flow. Lakes are geologically temporary, since they either fill with sediment or drain when their sills are eroded down, but, and, at least north to the Arctic Watershed, Ontario rivers are geologically confluent with streams which have been flowing south across North America since the Paleozoic. Another aspect of healthy continuity is long-lived stream creatures with complex life histories, such as Unionid mussels, Sturgeon, Eels, Turtles, and Mudpuppies. Dams break dispersal, migrations, and flow in diverse ways. Shorelines are the most ecologically diverse habitats in the landscape, providing corridors of movement between terrestrial habitats, and trapping plant nutrients & sediment before these reach waterbodies.

Endemicity: Because they flow for so long in constrained channels, rivers and streams provide venues for evolutionary adaptation to local conditions. South of the limits of glaciation the number of species of locally endemic fish, Unionid mussels, Crayfish, and Salamanders is astonishing. In Canada we don’t have as much species-level differentiation, but we do have communities of species that resulted from post-glacial dispersal. Each local population is specially adapted to its situation, so that every twist and reach of a stream has its own community. Introduced species cause unpredictable ecological damage, displace native species, and change the character of the native biota.
In 2016 we've been starting up our Doing Natural History blog, with articles about results of our work, and the posts so far all bear on the health of waterbodies. We urge everyone to add their observations or comment on these posts -

Frederick W. Schueler
and Aleta Karstad

1 Schueler, Frederick W. 1992. Draft of an environmental bill of rights for Ontario. Sea Wind 6(2):27-32) reprinted and available in Schueler, Frederick W. & Aleta Karstad. 2013 [2014]. Landscape: Progress towards a philosophy of sustainable occupancy. Library of One Thing and Another, Bishops Mills, Ontario. paperback, 222 pages, 44 black & white illustrations, 1 map. -

2 Schueler, Frederick. 2015. Principles of Riverine Health. Ontario Rivers Alliance Blog, posted by Linda Heron on Sunday, January 18th, 2015 -

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Turkeys Crossing

"Turkeys Crossing" by Aleta Karstad
    oil on birch 4 x 4 in.  $112
26 December 2016 finds me parked on the bridge in Bishops Mills, sitting in the passenger seat to paint the creek as it comes down past the place where the dam and mill were built in the 1840's.

A snow-covered fallen tree in the middle-distance makes me think of a dinosaur, and then two pairs of Wild Turkeys (real, modern, feathered dinosaurs!) come down to the open water, drink briefly, and then each spreads its broad, blunt wings to fly into the trees on the other side.

I'm happily painting away, enjoying my annual birthday tradition en plein air - smoothing the soft, melting creek ice in the foreground, rolling the window up a little more as the forecasted freezing rain begins to spatter my palette - and glancing up, there's a snow plow, its huge shovel filling the bridge from one railing to the other, right in front of me!

This is how far I'd gotten when I hurriedly set aside my little 'wet paint' square of gessoed birch and my palette, and ran around the vehicle to regain the driver's seat, to back off the bridge. The plow driver did not look amused. I left the scene at that point, as the rain was really becoming a problem.

At home on the dining room table, I worked a little more on the near trees, painted the tracks where a Mink had bounced along the ice edge, signed it - and then we went out to share a dinner of domestic Turkey and all the trimmings with our neighbours.

The North Grenville Historical Society has used my previous painting of this site of the Bishops Mills milldam as their poster for a meeting on 11 January "to start a new project in the new year focussed on the history of the environment in our area and human interaction with it. 

[Fred and I] have been studying and keeping records of subtle and not-so-subtle changes happening in the woods and waterways that surround us for the past 40 years. Species in decline, others expanding their territory, even staging a comeback from near oblivion:  all have been carefully noted in [our] observations and field notes."

We hope, with the aid of a Trillium Grant, to launch this environmental history by digitizing the hand-written years of of field notes, and to preserve the originals in the North Grenville Archives and the Canadian Museum of Nature, while making the digitized data and images available for scholarly and community use, while putting out weekly newspaper essays on change or stability of particular species and places.

The Society welcomes records, documentation, recollections of environmental change, and ideas of sources & sites to look at as we & they venture into this new approach to local history.

Dear supporters and patrons of my art,

The 4 x 4 inch original oil painting, "Turkeys Crossing" is available for purchase at $112. If you would like to purchase it, please contact Aleta 

Friday, November 4, 2016

La Grande Chute

"La Grande Chute" by Aleta Karstad
oil on canv. 14x18 in  $1300

22 July 2016 found me on the east side of the Dumoine River, just below the Chemin Dumoine  bridge. 

The Dumoine is The last undammed wild river in southern Quebec, and its drainage basin is the largest area of unfragmented southern boreal forest in Quebec. We were here as part of the Canadian Parks & Wilderness Society's surveys of the biodiversity of the Dumoine drainage. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Return to the Nature Journal

I bought a "Moleskine" blank-paged journal book just before leaving for our family reunion in Alberta and British Columbia, having decided to travel light and not take my oil paints, but work in ink and watercolour instead. It has been so long since I wrote one of my looseleaf journal pages that I thought I'd try something new... I mean old - returning to working in sewn-bound hard cover volumes, because the Moleskine is so charming, and of archival quality.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Long Lake Beaver Lodge

Oil on linen (6 x 6 in.)     $275      
5 March 2016 finds me painting with Phil Chadwick on still-frozen Long Lake, near Outlet, south east of Lyndhurst, Ontario. We are facing the south west end of the lake, and facing the breeze as well, which chills our faces and fingers even though the temperature isn't much below freezing. Occasionally the sun gleams through the clouds, making golden sparkles on the distant edges of ice where the shallow end of the lake has begun to melt. Phil stands at his easel while I sit beside him on my painting caddy, holding my canvas, palette balanced on my knees.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Yarrow With Junco Tracks

oil on canvas 6 x 6 in.   $275

18 February 2016 found me finally out to paint en plein air in the snow! It was sunny and -7C after fresh snow. I went out on snowshoes from our back door, balancing tippily in the old deep path through the back yard, and then breaking 10 cm with each step into new snow, 'till I'd passed our "young" Sugar Maple and into an open spot where the dry flowerheads of Yarrow poked above the snow. The tracks of a small bird patterned the snow among the stiff brown stems, stopping at those it could reach and scattering a few chaffy flower bits. The sun was still above the cedars when I spread my extra jacket on top of the snowshoes

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Musquash Woods

         oil on canvas 20 x 24 in.                                                                         

I've just completed a commission from reference photos, taken for my Shore Birch painting, on our hike along the Butler Beach trail near Musquash, New Brunswick in 2013. It is wonderful to have a large canvas for this painting - large enough to be able to make the curls and shreds of Birch bark crisp and smooth, and to even show the little horizontal lenticel marks.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Sturgeon River Early Snow

oil on canvas 6 x 12 in.                                                                                                                  $450

30 October 2014 found us at the Sturgeon River, 16.3 km E Jellicoe, Thunder Bay District, Ontario.   This is half a kilometre north of where the Energy East route crosses this rocky brownwater river. We'd turned off the Transcanada Hwy 11 along Camp 51 Road, and walked down to here, on the east bank just below an island. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Moose Jaw Riverbank

Oil on canvas 7 x 9 in.              $425

11 October 2014 found us 9.5 km east of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, approaching the north bank of the Moose Jaw River on foot. We forced a path through waist-high vegetation, downhill toward the riverbank. It seemed that everything was growing there, not mixed together, but in patches. Clumps of wild Asparagus, a band of American Licorice, Wolf Willow, and more. I wanted to pause and write descriptions of each change in vegetation

Friday, January 15, 2016

Hatless Hoodoos

Oil on canvas 5 x 7       $350

16 August, 2015 found me exploring Hoodoos Trail, southeast of Drumheller, Alberta, with my sister Karen Rathbun. The day was sunny and windy, and the desert landscape searingly bright. Wind and rain and frost are wearing away the softer rock and clay, leaving standing shapes protected by "hats" of harder rock.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Red Deer River Cottonwoods

oil on canvas 8 x 8 in.     $400

11 August 2015 found me admiring the great Cottonwoods at the Bleriot Ferry Campground, northwest of Drumheller, Alberta. The campsite is over-bowered by Eckenwalder Cottonwoods mixed with some Populus balsamifera, (our familiar Boreal Balsam Cottonwoods), both of them growing to more than a metre in diameter. 

A distant view of the sunlit banks of the Red Deer River peeks through the downswept Cottonwood boughs, and the deeply furrowed, corky gray bark of the trunk beside me communicates somehow, like a living wall.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Brassils Creek

oil on canvas 6 x 12 in.                             Sold               
26 December 2015 finds me perched on my painting caddy, precariously balanced with my easel on a little island of sticks and grass which is the front porch of a large Beaver lodge, on the east side of Brassils Creek, north of Burritts Rapids, Ontario. The sinking sun burns through a loose fleece above the heavier cloud bank, reflecting itself just peeking past the darkly reflected Cedars - an interesting challenge to paint quickly. Daylight succumbs to dusk early these days. A high flying flock of Canada Geese honk unseen as I finish my burnt sienna underpainting. The only other sound is the persistent trickling of the creek as it flows beneath or around something upstream - perhaps partly submerged branches from Beaver cutting.

Fred is mandated to collect some of the invasive Orconectes rusticus Crayfish for the Royal Ontario Museum, but now he finds that the water level is too high to lift any stones for crayfish, and there are none in the open to be netted. He has an alternate place in mind on the North Branch of the South Nation River, so he picks shriveled Highbush Cranberry Viburnum fruit from bushes along the bridge for his night-time beverage and then retires to the truck to write his notes as I get as much painting done as I can. The dark cloud bank has already engulfed the sun, but I have an Ash tree, and Elm, and some ripples yet to paint.

Monday, December 14, 2015

"Our Breath is in Their Leaves" Karstad Art Calendar for 2016

Our Breath is in Their Leaves 2016

Calendar: $18.99

This 2016 art calendar showcases my favourite paintings of trees from the past four years of working en plein air. On each page you will find an excerpt from my journal and two images. Some provide a detail of brushwork, and others give a glimpse of myself at work in the presence of the trees themselves. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Fishing Lake Outlet

oil on canvas 7 x 9 in.          Sold

23 May 2015 found me anchored in our canoe 'Fairhaven Bay,' at the outlet arm of Fishing Lake, northwest of Battersea, Ontario. This is the granite-walled outlet channel of a narrow, 2 kilometre long clearwater lake in mixed forest, and I'm painting the narrows looking out toward the lake. 

As I sit quietly in the stern, stroking oil paint on my

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Mudpuppy Night in Oxford Mills

Oil on canvas, 16 x 20 in.     Sold

Since 1999 Fred Schueler and I have been running "Mudpuppy Night in Oxford Mills" in order to give these magnificent creatures the public attention they deserve, since they don't have any official status. These weekly outings also get us out to do winter fieldwork on a regular basis - because nobody knows what's out there unless somebody goes!

This fall we got a phonecall from Ontario Nature as part of their research for an article about Mudpuppies. This provided the impetus for me to do the painting I've always wanted to do. Some day I would paint these giant aquatic salamanders as they appear on the creek bottom through shallow water by spotlight. So as soon as we got home from New Brunswick in late September, I set aside a week, and from my field experience and photos taken while wading about with

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Ancient Red Pine of Nepisiguit (oil on canvas 11 x 14 in.) Sold

3 July 2015 finds me near the top of a mountain in the Nepisiguit Protected Natural Area near Mt. Carleton Provincial Park, New Brunswick. I'm sitting on a stump, leaning back against a fallen branch, and gazing up to paint a tall split-trunked Red Pine, waving its sunlit needles high against a cloud-tossed blue sky.

Yesterday the Dendrochronologist (tree historian) of the BiotaNB team Ben Phillips, cored some big old trees up here and found that two Red Pines (both of them split identically into two equal tops) counted approximately 300 years old. This is a heretofore unmeasured age for Red Pine. These may be the oldest known individuals of this species in North America.

So we mounted a second expedition, equipped with photographers (Steve and Nina Colwell) and an artist (myself) to hike back up today to further document the ancient Pines. We drove in and parked where a creek crosses the road, coming from a long thin Beaver dam, which we balanced along, with walking sticks, holding to

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Melody Oak (oil on canvas 18 x 24 in.) Sold

1 October 2015 finds me looking up into the canopy of a big old pasture Burr Oak, near the Carp Hills, west of Ottawa. This grand old tree is a world unto itself. Its branches arch across my entire field of vision as I recline with tilted easel a few metres from its roots. Its actual base is hidden from sight by the cherry bushes and buckthorns that crowd close about it. The burls at the bottom of my painting are really half way up its trunk. The sun moves up and over from the right,

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Shiva of the Carp Hills (oil on canvas 16 x 20 in.) Sold

30 August 2015 finds me painting the portrait of a majestic old Burr Oak at the edge of a forested escarpment just east of Carp, Ontario. The sky and open spaces of the Ottawa Valley twinkle between the trunks and foliage of younger trees but here beneath the arch of its massive limbs the ancient Oak provides dark shade and preserves moisture, and to all my senses this is "forest interior". Deep leaf litter cushions the spaces between the rocks I've assigned for my temporary studio, and I lean back against a mossy fallen branch and breathe in the breath of the trees. 

This is one of thirteen of the largest trees in the Carp Hills identified for a "big trees" contest, the winner to be announced on 13 September by our friend and tree expert Owen Clarkin. 

Large, old trees may be considered to be “mother trees”. They beneficially affect the

Thursday, October 29, 2015


Traveling across Canada this summer and fall, from Alberta to Ontario and then to New Brunswick, I fell into an imaginative way of exploring and sharing the nature of the landscape. Our three-year-old grandson Samuel could not be with us, and thinking of him, I bought a little plastic Pentasaurus from the gift shop in the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta. Posing "Pentas" having imaginary adventures everywhere we stopped to gather specimens and observations became my
passion. The magic of