“The Three Realms”

Over the last four years, I’ve transitioned from a career in architecture to one that is increasingly multi-disciplinary, merging the skills of architect, landscape architect, master planner, artist, sculpture, and environmentalist into something remarkably different. Am I scared? Yes, but equally excited about integrating these very distinct skill sets into a new role that more accurately allows me to activate my core strengths, utilizing all the parts of my brain that energize me. Now, instead of limiting my strengths within the narrow confines of an institutionalized profession, I can draw upon all my skills as a designer to create without boundaries.

This transition began in 2018, with the acquisition of the final piece of a property needed to complete an entire lake ecosystem in Muskoka. This land will become the centerpiece of a wildlife preserve that I am creating near the small hamlet of Dorset, three hours north of Toronto. Having completed the purchase, I realized that I would need to proceed quickly on the implementation of a master plan to organize the 200-acre site, to ensure that each subsequent “mark” I made on the pristine wilderness would build incrementally towards a singular cohesive design.

Throughout the design process of the master plan, I had to remain focused on the mission of the nature preserve – which is to protect this natural ecosystem for the enjoyment and education of generations to follow. With this in mind, the hiking paths which connect the site’s most dramatic features were limited to a small portion of the large property and the sculptural pieces and clearings, created along these routes, were placed only at locations where such devices would help hikers navigate the different routes.

I was recently honoured to receive two awards of excellence from the American Society of Architectural Illustrators for my study drawings entitled “Gatekeeper Bridge” and “Genesis Grotto and Metamorphosis Pools”, both of which I’ve created as part of my overall design process for the preserve. I reflect upon how my approach to the creation of these images laid the foundation for the larger composition which I have entitled “The Three Realms” which I created shortly after these studies were completed.

This drawing, seen below, encapsulates most of the ideas that I have been developing over the last 21 months in one singular artwork and reflects my new approach to design.

The design process began in a conventional way with the development of a master plan for the property in 2018. To create this plan, I worked incrementally on each design element as it came to me, then moved onto the various undeveloped areas of the site with each subsequent drawing exercise. After many months, I eventually created the site plan below which describes the organizational structure of the landscape.

Once the site plan had been completed, I felt the essence of the sculptural elements that I envisioned for the landscape would evolve more effectively if they were illustrated. Charcoal seemed to be the best medium to express those ideas. The evolution of the drawing style would become evident to me only as I proceeded on this artistic journey. After numerous preliminary sketches, the image of the “Gatekeeper Bridge” was perfected and I moved onto the remaining unresolved sculptural elements.

After completing the preliminary sketches, the studies were consolidated into a larger image. It was at this stage that I began to understand the organization of the site as three separate realms, each with unique characteristics. These realms are individually expressed in the drawing to illustrate the changes that will be experienced by hikers during their forest journeys as they move deeper into the wilderness and lose contact with the outside world.

While the image of the oval depicted within the First Realm in the image above, grounds the lower third of the composition, the events happening in the Second and Third Realms appear to float, as if they were clouds of smoke emanating from the oval. The inspiration for the overall composition came from Baroque imagery with swirling forms and dramatic movement throughout. This can be seen in an early sketch below which I created for the Second Realm.

I found additional inspiration for the arrangement of this drawing from, Albrecht Durer’s, Adoration of the Trinity, where both the scale of each element within the composition and a realistic perspectival view were distorted by Durer to convey hierarchical difference within the overall narrative. This painting provided the clearest strategy for how I might organize the complex journey I was imagining for Dorset.

The final version of “The Three Realms” drawing integrates all the lessons I had learned from this earlier precedent with a similar distortion of perspective and scale. This approach allowed me to indicate all the elements I was envisioning for the site within this one drawing, expressing the three different areas of the site at their most elemental.

The Creation of The First Realm.

I knew from the beginning that the journey I was envisioning required an entry point into the wilderness. In response I cleared an oval opening in the forest. This space, carved from the forest was inspired by the oval churches of Bernini in Rome.

Adjacent to this oval space I would also require building to allow me to inhabit the forest and again I felt that this building should be designed with iconic simplicity. The “cross” of the cottage in plan, when joined with the oval clearing, create an Ankh, the ancient Egyptian symbol of LIFE. While the full extent of the Ankh is not visible within “The Three Realms” drawing, I wanted to indicate enough of the cottage, with it illuminated oculus, to convey the relationship of these two separate elements to the formal arrangement of the First Realm.

The “Genesis Grotto and Metamorphosis Pools” will be constructed on the northern edge of the oval and will create a threshold from the First Realm into the forested landscape below. The grotto can also be seen on the lower right of the drawing above with the naturally occurring amphitheater seen behind.

While the grotto itself does not appear within “The Three Realms” drawing, since it faces north, and is obscured by the slope in the north face of the oval, the technique I used in this image set the tone for all the subsequent drawings I would create for this phase of the design.

The Creation of The Second Realm.

From the oval, the view northward is towards the Diana Monument with its three arches and skull-like headdresses, which will link each trail to an important keystone species that make this landscape their home.

Once arriving at this monument, hikers must decide to take either, the Wolf, the Bear or the Moose trails which lead them into very distinct aspects of this wilderness.

I have drawn hikers as they illuminate their journey through the darkened forest with flashlights and campfires. This illumination technique together with naturally occurring moonlight, reveals the most important natural and man-made features hikers may encounter on their journey.

These three routes meet again at the Shirley Temple, and the third compass orientation at the site, creating a space to contemplate the journey ahead.

The Creation of The Third Realm.

Occupying the upper third of the charcoal illustration is the Third Realm, which is the most sacred part of the journey. The path around Carl Rideout Lake, which is named in honour of my late father, is located deep within the forest, and creates a destination for the entire path network. I lost my father in 2014 and the impulse to create this preserve was directly inspired by his love of animals and nature. At this location, at a point furthest from the oval, hikers are now approaching the untouched wilderness.

I have drawn three oval openings in the forest at the upper third of “The Three Realms” illustration. The central oval is illuminated by the moon, which looms high in the night sky, with billowing smoke emanating from the fires which illuminate the four monuments around Carl Rideout Lake. A spirit-like figure withers from the oval on the left and represents dance/sound. On the right, the almighty spirit, taken from Michelangelo’s depiction of God from the Sistine Chapel, emerges from an oval and overlooks the entire scene.

Utilizing an approach taken with the creation of the oval clearing and the symbolic associations of the Ankh which linked the oval to the cottage, I began with the vision for the first of the four lakeside monuments dedicated to my parents.

Creating a monument in honour of my father in the form of an earthwork/sculpture came easy. However, how I would construct this piece, and the means in which I would illustrate this artwork as the design progressed, was more of a challenge.

I had always understood the large piece of Canadian Shield, arching out of the forest and into the lake, as his resting place and would eventually name this earthwork, which I will strip of all vegetation, “Whaleback Rock”. It was the first of four monuments dedicated to my two sets of parents (refer to my earlier Four Follies post). These monuments will eventually be constructed around the lake and connected with a waterside, perimeter trail.

“Gatekeeper Bridge” dedicated to my mother, who is the metaphorical gatekeeper of our family, will be located at the entry into this journey around the lake. When viewed from the vantagepoint depicted in “The Three Realms” drawing and seen more clearly in this preliminary sketch shown below, “Whaleback Rock” can be seen across the narrow bay, arching out of the still waters of the lake.

With a bonfire illuminating the scene in the foreground, “Gatekeeper Bridge” creates a threshold to the journey around the lake. This path leads to monuments dedicated to my Uncle Noel and Aunt Bertha, who have acted as double parents to me throughout my life. These can be seen on the left of the drawing above, emerging from the forest at the western shore of Carl Rideout Lake.

Looking forward, I am excited about how this process may evolve as I move from creating black and white sketches in charcoal and pencil to painting in full colour with oil on canvas. In a similar way that I have approached the creation of “The Three Realms” drawing, I am going to proceed in a measured way. I will work to develop each of the different features of the composition before I begin to assemble them into the larger paintings.

I know that throughout all of this I must repress the fear that I have expressed earlier in this post. I’ve learned that while I am immersed in the design process, I permit myself to go out on a limb. Only by embracing those moments of abandon, when the design evolves in ways that I hadn’t anticipated, that artistic growth can happen. The journey to create “The Three Realms” has taught me that.

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