Archive | October 2014

Hardy’s Hobbies & Crafts Workshop — September 2014

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Madoc, Ontario

After returning from a recent three-day botanical drawing and painting workshop in Madoc, Ontario, I discovered that the town is named after a small Welsh village, Llanmadoc, on the Gower Peninsula, not far from where I grew up in Swansea, South Wales. Madoc was originally known as MacKenzie’s Mills after Donald MacKenzie, who established a sawmilll and gristmill (corn or flour mill) in the town. Another interesting and alternative explanation for the origin of the name of the town — again with a Welsh connection — is that it was renamed Madoc after the legendary Welsh prince Madoc (or Madog), credited by some with discovering North America in 1170, some 322 years before the arrival of Christopher Columbus. Although it is generally believed that Columbus was the first European to discover America in 1492, it is now well known that Viking explorers had reached parts of the east coast of Canada around 1100 and that Icelandic Leif Erikson’s Vinland may have visited part of the United States as well. What is less well known is that a Welshman may have followed in Erikson’s footsteps,  bringing settlers with him to Mobile Bay in modern day Alabama and, according to Welsh legend, that man was Prince Madog of Wales. A Welsh poem of the 15th century tells how Prince Madog sailed away in 10 ships and discovered America. Being Welsh myself, I am certainly not going to argue the point in favour of Christopher Columbus or Leif Erikson’s Vinland for that matter.

Hardy’s Hobbies & Crafts

Hardy’s Hobbies & Crafts is owned and operated by Catherine Hardy and located in Madoc, a community in the municipality of Hastings County, halfway between Toronto and Ottawa. When people traveled by horse and carriage during the 19th century from Toronto to Ottawa, Madoc was the halfway stop over point. The art store and educational facility provides a truly inspirational environment for artists to stock up on supplies and materials and attend on-going art classes, seminars and workshops. Check out Cathy’s website for more information on upcoming events and further information at

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During my visit to Madoc I stayed at the Blue Maples natural forest and wildlife habitat bed and breakfast facility, home to writer and naturalist, Norma Hunt, a warm and interesting lady with a wealth of knowledge about the local habitats and flora and fauna around Hastings County. Blue Maples is an idyllic and peaceful setting for visitors wishing to retreat into the heart of nature. Set in 85 acres of protected forest preserve, it is an oasis for writers, artists and naturalists. As Norma says: “Our forest is blessed with a plethora of plants, animals, caves, streams and rock cliffs. Many pathways exist throughout the woodlands, some easy to traverse, others more difficult.” Every morning Norma wakes to greet the wildlife that visit her home. During my stay, I watched as blue jays and chipmunks gathered at the feeding stations and Norma’s precious turkey family troupe marched in a military fashion up and down the driveway. Despite their size and weight, wild turkeys in Ontario, unlike their domestic counterparts, are agile flyers. They can often be seen flying beneath the canopy of surrounding trees on the property or foraging on the ground for acorns, nuts, seeds, berries, insects, roots and, of course, whatever Norma puts out for the “gobbling” flock. Turkey groups are usually made up of primarily hens and chicks, with a few males (or toms) and one dominant male.

The house at Blue Maples was custom built by John and Phyllis Weddel, and is a replica of his Victorian childhood home. John was not only a master carpenter, but an artist whose creativity is beautifully reflected in the reclaimed Victorian fixtures, fireplace mantel and other wood features that grace the home. As Norma puts it: “On a clear summer night come view the stars, the Milky Way and the golden moon; listen to the frogs and marvel at the hundreds of fireflies that light up the night.”

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Norma Hunt’s beloved turkeys.
The first day of the workshop I introduced botanical drawing exercises and worked on both line and tonal drawings in graphite — using a combination of both H and B pencils to achieve depth and realism. The graphite tonal study can also be used as a foundation for learning how to create dynamic monochromatic underpaintings in watercolour. We started out with a few basic exercises in gesture drawing and developing sketch drawings from the underlying geometry of a given floral subject, in this case the “dancing ballerina” fuchsia flower. The sketch was then developed into a line (contour) drawing and finally into a tonal rendering.
Below: Graphite drawings: Fuchsia project; Pat Heath showing her tonal drawing;  Gisela Downey with her apple project and a finished student apple drawing.
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The second day of the workshop featured my Zinnia floral painting as a step-by-step project to learn watercolour botanical painting techniques (shown below). We had a wonderful day with a lot of fun, stimulating conversation and a great lunch provided by Cathy. What more could you ask for?
Zinnia in watercolour By Michael Spillane
Zinnia Watercolour
Below: Student Zinnia paintings in progress.
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The third day continued with another step-by-step watercolour botanical project — Cyclamen (See below).
Cyclamen in watercolour By Michael Spillane
oCyclamen in Watercolour
Below: Cyclamen leaf and petal exercise: Learning to mix and match colours and using the right technique to master the art of botanical painting.
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Gisela working on her botanical project.
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Thanks to everyone involved for making this workshop such a wonderful experience. I look forward to returning to Madoc in the near future. Don’t forget to check out Hardy’s Hobbies & Crafts for art supplies and upcoming workshops!
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