There were certainly crayons and coloring books in my childhood home, but I have little recollection of using them or other drawing or coloring materials as a pre-schooler. In kindergarten and elementary school I was most fascinated with papers - particularly colored papers -, and the patterns and images that I could make with them. I especially remember the paper weaving that I did during my very early days at Drew School. I loved the bright colors of the paper and the woven patterns that could be made with them. Much later, in grade five, I made a picture of a robin on a blooming apple branch with cut out pieces of colored paper pasted to a black background. Now, far from school and into my sixties, I still sometimes use cut, colored paper to make Christmas Cards, etc., and my fascination with paper certainly continues.
The actual drawing of images was likely also happening in these earliest years, but the first specific drawing activity that I remember doing at school was in the grade seven class of Helen Douglas in New Westminster. That was at Lister School where I also spent grade eight with Helen Douglas as my teacher and certainly by that year I was using colored chalks and tempera paints. In fact Miss Douglas that year gave me the privilege of working alone on a larger winter landscape of my own design and I know that this painting came to be displayed in the school. I am no longer sure of the medium I used for this, but I think it was in colored chalk or pastel. This painting was of horizontal format and may have been about 30"x36", but I cannot speak about the size with any reliability.
By grade nine, in a different school but in a class still taught by Miss Douglas, I was exploring watercolors and lino block printing. (I still have a copy of a print I made in grade nine though I seem to have lost the engraving. It was a theme based on a view into my goldfish aquarium.) I liked lino block printing very much and have continued some use of the medium over the years. Quite recently in Winnipeg I have created lino cut images for greeting cards and in the 1980s cut blocks for imprinting on hand-made papers when I was exploring paper-making techniques. In 1999, work on lino cuts led me into cutting the linoleum for the purpose of creating embossed images, again using hand-made paper.
While I was in grade nine I was beginning to do some drawing and painting on my own and by the summer of 1951 when I was sixteen and living on Hospital Street I was teaching myself to use oil paints. And it was around this time that I was first meeting Joe Plaskett and benefiting from my exposure to his work. During the winter of 1952-1953 I studied life drawing with Joe at the Vancouver School of Fine Art where I worked primarily in charcoal and conté crayon. During the period before my move to Melita in the summer of 1953 I drew with pencil, wax crayons, ink and conté in sketch books which I carried with me everywhere I went. I once left one of my sketch books on a bus in New Westminster and was never able to track it down.
Occasionally I used watercolors and India ink, but my serious paintings were in oil. Of these only "Spring Ferns" remains in my possession; all other paintings from this period are destroyed so far as I know.
During the years I spent in Melita following my move there in 1953 I did almost no personal drawing and painting. The sets that I painted for variety concerts in two consecutive years in the late 1950s were painted with tempera, I think, but house paint may also have been used. Also in the late 1950s I used a platen press at the printing office to publish a couple of original Christmas card designs. Both were lino cut landscapes printed in black; one was on paper stock pre-printed in two colors with saw-cut hickory wood.
In the early 1960s in Brandon I worked in conté, casein, pastel and oil, and very occasionally watercolor. I also did some rather experimental stuff using dribbled house paint on paper. This developed out of some "liberating exercises" I was doing in a class with Steve Repa at the Brandon Allied Arts Centre. During this period I also did some mixed media things in conté and wax crayon and I called the combination crayon scratch.
Casein seems to have most frequently been my medium of choice during the mid-1960s. Out-of-doors I used caseins on paper; in the studio, sometimes on canvas. I also did some studio oils on canvas and a few outdoor pastels. By the time I was leaving Boissevain in 1969, however, I was pretty well committed to watercolors for work out-of-doors. Casein pigments had been increasingly difficult to come by as their popularity seems to have declined and I could be more sure of the availability of watercolors, especially in smaller supply centres like Brandon. I have speculated that the introduction of acrylic paints may have been a factor which influenced the availability of caseins. There is a possibility of course that watercolors better served my purposes as I sought to extend the spontaneousness of my way of working with paint.
I believe that it was around this time, too, that I began to make fairly large numbers of ink or pencil drawings on letter size bond paper. During my last years in Melita I had begun to do a little drawing in sketch books and I'm sure that my interest in drawing was further stimulated by my exposure to Steve Repa in Brandon in the early 1960s. During my years in Boissevain I began to draw more as a way of loosening up before tackling watercolors. But often these drawings took on an importance of their own and in some ways have represented a kind of diary of my personal involvement with landscape imagery. My collection of these letter size drawings is now very large and some of them represent what I believe to be some of my finest work. I find that the sense of illumination and color in some of these black and white drawings makes them quite exceptional. After pastels became my primary medium of choice for work out-of-doors in the late 1980s, I seem to have done fewer pencil drawings. Rightly or wrongly I have supposed that that has been because the need in me for drawing has been met by the work I have been doing in pastel.
As a medium, pastel has dominated my work since my friend David Loftson returned from Paris in the spring of 1987 with two Plaskett pastels, gifts to me from Joe. The gifts proved timely, for they rekindled my interest in the medium just when I was feeling that my use of watercolor was perhaps becoming repetitive and predictable. I have, since then, continued to do some work in watercolor—particularly "frozen" watercolors—, and some mixed media pieces in pastel and watercolor, but my major output since 1987 has been in pastel.
My post-1987 pastels are in some important ways distinguishable from those few I had done in earlier years, for I seemed to have new insights into the potential of the medium. I began to work my pastels on colored papers and responded more fully, I think, to the luminosity of the pastel pigment itself. And I was intrigued with the ways in which this contrasted with watercolors where the luminosity owed almost everything to the light reflecting from the underlying watercolor paper.
While it is certainly true that most of my work done since my move to Winnipeg in 1972 has been in watercolor and pastel and has been mostly done out-of-doors, I have done some studio painting in oils and acrylics. In the 1970s, in particular, I did a number of works in oil. Since then I have worked only occasionally in that medium. Works in acrylic have always been few but are no less important to me on that account though in general I have preferred oil pigment as a medium for rendering landscape themes in the studio. I have often found acrylic colors just a little too "plastic" for my purposes.