Wed. Nov 29th, 2023
My experience as Lake Superior's first artist-in-residence

Today’s post comes from Marta Stares, Friends of Lake Superior Provincial Park’s first artist-in-residence.

In 2021, Lake Superior Provincial Park and the Friends of Lake Superior Provincial Park established their first Artist in Residence program.

I was honored to be selected as the park’s first participant and to be able to paint and capture the stunning landscape of the park.

With its rugged coastline, high cliffs, remote beaches, waterfalls and panoramic viewpoints, it’s easy to see why generations of artists have found inspiration here.

About the program

The annual program is organized and sponsored by Friends of Lake Superior Provincial Park.

woman painting outdoors

The program offers honorarium, supply stipend, meal and travel allowance, seven nights of free camping at a campground (Agawa Bay or Rabbit Blanket) or backcountry camp, as well as marketing and promotion of artwork.

In exchange for my stay, I provided a piece of art of my choice and a virtual public Art Talk webinar about my experience and the work I produced (check out Art Talk on the Friends of Lake Superior events page!).

About the artist

I am a Toronto-based artist and educator interested in painting outdoors, especially the Northern Ontario landscape.

woman in art studioInspiration for my work comes from extended canoe trips and backcountry camping.

During these remote excursions I find a deep sense of connection to the water and land.

I work primarily with oils and use bold, vibrant colors in my work, offering viewers a taste of what it’s like to experience the Canadian wilderness.

You can see more of my work here.

The experience

If you’re familiar with the Algoma region, you know there’s inspiration and cultural heritage around every corner.

Like the lake itself, everything in the park is picturesque and grand.

Sunset on the coastal path just north of Agawa RockSunset on the coastal path just north of Agawa Rock

The way the sunlight moves over the shore of Lake Superior always reminds me of Lawren Harris’ paintings.

I was excited and nervous at the same time to paint here, worried that I wouldn’t be able to do justice to this spectacular place.

easel in the forestAs I prepared and packed art supplies for the residency, I thought about all the gorgeous places I intended to capture on canvas.

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To my surprise, what I created was inspired by small, intimate places and quiet moments.

The most profound part of the experience was having time to be fully present in nature, aware of my senses, savoring the little things, and capturing a moment in time.

The memory of being there continues to influence my studio practice even today.

During the residency I spent time journaling every morning, walking along the coast, listening to the boreal forest, watching sunsets, doing quick sketches, and painting. outdoor.


From time to time, I would put my phone on a small tripod and film clips of myself in action. I wanted to have a record of this special experience.

Chart Plein air It’s a completely different experience to painting in the studio, which is a controlled space where I can adjust the light, make a cup of tea and paint with many layers.

In my studio I have the luxury of time. I can work slowly, reference multiple photos, and overthink each brand if I want.

Painting outdoors means being completely immersed in the environment and accepting the challenges it brings.

Person painting on an easel looking at the water.This photo was taken moments before I packed up my easel because the sand flies made it impossible to finish the painting. Of course, the spectacular light and great view were more memorable than the flies.

For example, there are bugs, lots of them! Sometimes tiny sandflies or pesky mosquitoes can make it impossible to complete a small painting in a single sitting.

Another challenging part of Plein air to paint is to simplify the subject without being overwhelmed by the vast view. There are so many shapes, colors and details in a landscape. It can be quite difficult to translate them into a few simple strokes.

paint palette and brushesTools of the trade

Perhaps the most difficult part of Plein air painting is changing light.

The sun hiding behind a cloud for a moment can quickly change the entire look of the view. Painting on Lake Superior was definitely a race against time – it forced me to make quick decisions and paint with more confidence.

Find my special places

I had many memorable moments in different corners of this impressive park.

I visited this beautiful spot just south of the Coldwater River several times. I loved the variations of the pink rocks and the texture of the brightly colored green lichens against the turquoise water.

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View of painting on easel in nature.My successful painting, just south of the Coldwater River

My first attempt to paint here was unsuccessful. Shortly after setting up my easel and laying down my first colors, the wind picked up so abruptly that it blew away my canvas!

There were so many bugs and debris stuck to the fresh oil paint that I didn’t think the painting could be saved.

Determined, I returned to the same place the next day and completed this little painting.

This was one of my favorite painting moments.

Painting of Katherine Cove on a misty morningPainting of Katherine Cove on a misty morning

Another day, I was alone at a popular spot in Katherine Cove on a misty morning, except for the resident snake keeping me company.

The rocks felt cool under my feet, the light stayed constant for hours and the soft sound of the water hitting the rocks was my background music – it was perfect.

Outdoor sketch of Pinguisibi Falls along the Sand River TrailPlein air sketch of Pinguisibi Falls along the Sand River Trail

I revisited Sand River Trail many times during residency. Each time I learned something new about the way the water cascaded down the rocks.

This road, a trail used by the Anishinaabe since time immemorial, left a lasting impression on me.

Back in the studio, I painted the Pinguisibi Falls again, this time on a large 60 by 48 inch canvas.

waterfall paintingfat there

From this point of view the falls are grand, fierce and full of energy. This painting, called fat there It is the one I have chosen to donate. It will be available for viewing at the park’s Agawa Bay Visitor Center.

It has been a privilege to have the opportunity to make art in this extraordinary place. I have collected some excellent material during my stay, enough to inspire me to continue painting Lake Superior for years to come.

However, the most valuable material is the experience itself: being immersed in nature.

If you are an artist looking for an inspiring place to create new pieces, I recommend that you consider applying to the Friends of Lake Superior Provincial Park Artist-in-Residence Program for next season.

Interested in becoming Lake Superior’s second artist-in-residence?

Applications for the 2022 Lake Superior Provincial Park Artist-in-Residence Program are due March 31, 2022.

For more information and to apply, visit the Friends of Lake Superior website.