My first design specifically created for canoe paddles happened by happy accident. In the fall of 2013, the eldest sister of my partner, Mary Beth, gave us a canoe and paddles to store on the seven acres of Grey County land that Beth and I call Rosewood Farm. As she handed me the paddles, Beth’s sister said something like, “Maybe you can see what you can do with these.” I’d later learn she was referring to the physical condition of the paddles, which were water-stained and in need of sanding and refinishing. I somehow thought she wanted a design rendered on them (just as I’d rendered decorative garden signs and other artwork for Rosewood). So after the winter let go its icy grip in 2014, I set up a tiny art studio in the loft of an unheated workshop in downtown Rockwood, Ont., and created a bird design based on a real bird I’d seen at Rosewood. After posting a photo on Facebook, Beth’s sister was surprised but loved the design, as did many people.
The process involved sanding the paddles down to just above the grain. (Inking onto raw wood can cause ink to bleed along the grain.) The design was first lightly drawn with pencil before being re-drawn in fine detail with permanent black ink. Permanent lightfast color was later inked into the large interior shapes before the paddles were given several finishing coats of clear UV-protective varnish.
I really like the canoe paddle as a medium. It beautifully combines form and function, and natural wood tends to make graphics really jump out.