Bring On Spring!

I mentioned in an earlier post, New Beginnings, that the practice of looking for signs of seasonal change in nature is called phenology. The lightening of days, less bite to the breeze, shy heads of crocus peeking through last year’s leaves. With that first robin’s song or even a softer, gentler rain, suddenly our hearts are lifted and there is, yes, a spring in our step!

Today marks the Vernal Equinox, the first day of Spring. Here’s a look at just a few of our earliest-emerging species, typically seen in eastern Canada mid to late March, early April and May. To me, they are the surest signs that Monsieur l’Hiver has left us for another nine months or so, and that sweet Mademoiselle Printemps is here to stay!

Click on each image for expansion/slideshow and details.

Still Life: Perfect Prose


Jane Austen collection by Penguin Classics, with beautiful foil-stamped clothbound hardcovers designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith, shown with Heathcote bone china teacup.

Seasons in White

As we say farewell to January (and its theme, Things that are white) and look forward to lengthening days and the coming of Spring, I offer an image in white for each season:


Autumn:  Tree bones • Rockwood Conservation Area, Ontario


Winter:  Ice crystals on frozen pond • Eramosa Karst Conservation Area, Ontario


Spring:  Cherry blossoms in May • Mississauga, Ontario


Summer:  Fragrant Water-lily (Nymphaea odorata) • Muskoka, Ontario

To celebrate International Correspondence Writing Month, February’s theme is A Writer’s Life.

Fun with FX

If you’re anything like me, you’re never quite happy with the results of your latest photographic outing. While many of my shots will certainly do for amateur purposes, I always find myself yearning for those fabulously arty photos that blow the mind. (If you want to see some awesome nature photography, please check out my sister Nancy’s Facebook page or her Flickr account. She’s the real photographer in the family!) But I’m too lazy to learn proper technique, and I can’t afford to upgrade my equipment, so for now I have to stick with what I’ve got.

When I need to satisfy that artistic yen, however, I will sometimes take an okay photo and punch it up a little to increase its aesthetic value – or just to have fun. Well, sure, you say – every single serious photographer out there (especially those whose works get published) manipulates each and every shot! Yes, of course they do. But not everyone admits it. You can usually tell, however, especially when the Photoshopping has gotten a little out of hand: reds that are just a bit too red, that impossibly blue sky, wrinkles which miraculously disappear, etc. Almost all of us do it to some extent; I just wish people would be honest about it when (and if) they give the particulars about their work.

Whether I use my DSLR (a Nikon D5000) or my smartphone camera (which does a better job in certain circumstances than the Nikon), I almost always post-process the results, starting with the simple photo editor that came with my laptop for cropping, colour or contrast adjustment, etc. Another program I use is an app called Pixlr, which is available for Android phones or desktop (I use both; the phone app has more options). I use it to add text to an image, or a special effect overlay or border. And then there’s PicsArt, another phone app. It offers different effects than Pixlr, some of them very cool indeed.

What I’ve never used is … Photoshop! The programs mentioned above are free and do a good enough job; I’ll be darned if I’m going to pay a few hundred bucks for an editor if I don’t have to. No doubt Photoshop has way more to offer, but I’m quite happy with what I use now. (I’ve tried a few other free apps out there, but they were quite disappointing.)

I was looking through my archives for some nice winter- or Christmas-themed images and found one I’d taken a few years ago in Algonquin Provincial Park. While it’s tolerably pretty, it isn’t going to win any awards as it stands. So I decided to have fun and show you some of the really neat effects you can get with just a few clicks of the mouse or taps on the screen. The five shown here were done with PicsArt on my smartphone.

First, the original photo – sort of. “Algonquin Birches” was taken on a dull, cloudy February day, so what you see here has already been cropped and brightened. I also increased the colour saturation a tiny bit so the green would stand out more, and I edited out a distracting branch in the background. (I’d have loved to get rid of the one in the foreground, but that’s where my current software would have let me down; you’d notice!)


The original: Algonquin Birches

For all five images, I was going for painterly or artistic effects. The first one is called Shear, which makes it looks as if the trees were painted on canvas. (Pixlr has a similar effect called … Canvas.)


With PicsArt Shear

For the second, I used Cartoonizer. I like the bold strokes of the outlines, and the colouring reminds me of alcohol inks.


With PicsArt Cartoonizer

Next, I applied the Contour effect. Other apps’ sketch, drawing and pencil effects will yield similar results. I think this would be an awesome tool to create colouring book-style outlines of your own photographs, which you could then, of course, fill in! (I wouldn’t necessarily use such a detailed photo, though. Maybe something with simpler lines. Expect to see an attempt at this in a future post!)


With PicsArt Contour

For the fourth, vintagey effect, I used Old Paper, then increased the brightness. The beauty of apps like this is that you can tweak a photo or layer effects to your heart’s content until you get the results you want.


PicsArt Old Paper, with increased brightness

My favourite of these is Watercolor. Most photo editing software will have something called this, with slightly different results. I like the subtle je ne sais quoi it gives the image.


With PicsArt Watercolor

These are only a very few of the options available. Try running some of your own photos through an editing app to see what delightful digital art you can come up with!

Note: None of the companies mentioned here has paid me to talk about them. Although I bloody well wish they would.

Still Life: Pewter & Leather

tankard-leather-4I took this photo last year as a Facebook teaser for the leather bags I was starting to make for my shop. These are simple drawstring coin / dice / trinket pouches made from goatskin. I also use Canadian moose hide, which I obtain from a traditional native craft supply shop operated by Six Nations people, and I sometimes embellish the bags with handmade wooden toggles from reclaimed local trees. Along with my prized Scottish pewter tankard (“It comes in pints?? I’m getting one!!!), I thought this made a nice vignette. Pay the barkeep, and drink up!

Wood So Wild on Facebook


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI haven’t published many of my nature photographs on this blog. Perhaps now that the colder months are here, it’s time to brew a warming cup of tea and sort through the archives. I took this one – a favourite of mine – one December day a few years ago at Rockwood Conservation Area near Toronto, Ontario, a beautiful place with fascinating geology such as caves and potholes, as well as the ruins of an 1867 woolen mill.

Photo © 2016 Valerie Barrett. All rights reserved.