Art in the field

Pas­tels not puck seemed an odd choice in ice-hockey-mad Canada but Daniel Porter tells Janet Men­zies how he found a win­ning for­mula


Grow­ing up in Canada sur­rounded by some of the world’s great­est un­spoilt nat­u­ral wilder­ness is ideal for a sport­ing artist. Grow­ing up in Canada as the only one of four broth­ers not to be par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in the coun­try’s na­tional sport, ice-hockey, was less straight­for­ward. Daniel Porter re­mem­bers: “i was born in new Brunswick and we were a hockey fam­ily, so when i was a lit­tle guy i tried hockey – and quit. it made my dad so mad. He said, ‘You’re the best skater in the fam­ily.’ we were Canucks fans. Hockey is our na­tional sport and i am go­ing to be a painter. it was a bit of a lonely road at first.”

it was Porter’s mother who de­cided that if their boy was not go­ing to em­u­late Ken Dryden, the le­gendary Mon­treal goal­tender, he needed to do some­thing else on week­ends. “So my mum en­rolled me in a Satur­day morn­ing art class and i took to it like a duck to wa­ter. From then on mum had to stop be­ing a ‘hockey mom’ and be­come an ‘art school mom’.

Hav­ing over­come the ini­tial bar­ri­ers to be­ing an artist in a na­tion ob­sessed with hockey, Porter found his cho­sen genre pre­sented another ob­sta­cle. “in Canada, we don’t have many sport­ing artists – you have to go over the bor­der into the United States for the well-known names and the gal­leries. in fact, in Canada’s fine-art cir­cles, sport­ing art is ac­tu­ally looked down on a bit. Luck­ily i am quite near the bor­der, so i get a lot of clien­tele from the States. And i am al­ways meet­ing peo­ple through the sport it­self, who come to fish or hunt in this amaz­ing area.”

while you couldn’t pos­si­bly de­scribe Porter as be­ing con­trary, the fi­nal hur­dle he faced in his cho­sen ca­reer has been one of his own mak­ing: the choice of pas­tels as his main medium. He con­cedes this wasn’t a straight­for­ward mat­ter. “well, it’s true no­body in north Amer­ica has re­ally done sport­ing pas­tels, and it’s a very dif­fi­cult medium for my sub­ject mat­ter. But i had seen the work in pas­tel of an English painter who had moved out here a num­ber of years ago and i loved it. i found it rather daunt­ing be­cause it is like a fin­ger-paint­ing and re­ally dif­fi­cult to get the de­tail and depth i wanted in these sport­ing sub­jects. So i stud­ied it closely and then started ex­per­i­ment­ing.

“There were no sur­face pa­pers or can­vases avail­able that suited the pas­tels. i tried sanded pa­per and every­thing you could think of and none of it worked. i just couldn’t get the lay­ers of pig­ment that i wanted. in the end, i found his­toric ris­ing Pa­per, which is ac­tu­ally a kind of thick matt board – orig­i­nally made at the ris­ing Mill in Mas­sachusetts. i mixed up my own ground us­ing mar­ble dust and i was able to cre­ate my own smooth, in­vis­i­ble sanded sur­face. You can’t see it, though you can feel it, and it will take eight or nine lay­ers of pig­ment. So now i have been able to make these pas­tel sport­ing scenes cen­tral in my work. if you look at the river in the fish­ing scenes, there are eight lay­ers that cre­ate that glassy, fluid look.”

it should come as no sur­prise that when Porter works in char­coals, it is not done the easy way. “when i am out salmon fish­ing or in the bird coverts i har­vest small roots of wind-fallen trees, bind them in small bun­dles, dry them out and cook them in a con­trolled burn over open fire to make my own ver­sion of vine char­coal.”

Look­ing at his work, you can al­most smell that slow, char­coal-burner’s fire. And Porter’s un­re­lent­ing en­gage­ment with his ma­te­ri­als and sub­ject captures a true wilder­ness feel that his fel­low Cana­di­ans should be proud of. He says: “we have the most won­der­ful habi­tat here. i can take my two English set­ters out hunt­ing for ruffed grouse and wood­cock. or i get in­vited to fish the most mar­vel­lous un­spoilt salmon rivers. i sup­pose things were a bit up­hill for me at the start but now i’m so glad to be in such a spe­cial place with my work.”

re­cently, Porter has found a way of cel­e­brat­ing his love of salmon fish­ing by mak­ing de­tailed paint­ings of fa­mous tra­di­tional salmon flies. “i paint them with a his­toric English por­trai­ture back­ground – each one is a por­trait in it­self.” what more could you want? A por­trait of a fly that in it­self por­trays a whole way of life. To see more of Daniel Porter’s work, go to: www.daniel­

He can be con­tacted on tel: +1 (506) 453 7851 or by email: dan@daniel­

Clock­wise from above: lamb in pas­tels; a wood­cock; one of the artist’s fly por­traits – the Jock Scott; eight lay­ers of pas­tel give the wa­ter its glassy ap­pear­ance; two scenes fea­tur­ing Porter’s English set­ters

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