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Poplar Bay
The Red River in Winter
Walter J. Phillips, Phillips, Poplar Bay, Red river, winter, woodcut, landscape, woodblock, print, printmaking, woodblock printing, colour woodcut, editions, 2D art, two-dimensional, Japanese art influence, light, properties of light, snow, cropped subject matter, sailboat, trees, snow, shadow,reflection, water

Walter Phillips is well-known for his use of  colourProduced by light of various wavelengths, and when light strikes an object and reflects back to the eyes. Colour is an element of art with three properties: (1) hue or tint, the colour name, e.g., red, yellow, blue, etc.: (2) intensity, the purity and strength of a colour, e.g., bright red or dull red; and (3) value, the lightness or darkness of a colour. When the spectrum is organized as a color wheel, the colours are divided into groups called primary, secondary and intermediate (or tertiary) colours; analogous and complementary, and also as warm and cool colours. Colours can be objectively described as saturated, clear, cool, warm, deep, subdued, grayed, tawny, mat, glossy, monochrome, multicolored, particolored, variegated, or polychromed. Some words used to describe colours are more subjective (subject to personal opinion or taste), such as: exciting, sweet, saccharine, brash, garish, ugly, beautiful, cute, fashionable, pretty, and sublime. Sometimes people speak of colours when they are actually refering to pigments, what they are made of (various natural or synthetic substances), their relative permanence, etc. (  in  two-dimensionalHaving height and width, but no depth; flat. (  images.  Here, Walter Phillips has used colour to depict two landscapes. The two landscapes are very different.  While the landscape depicted in Red River in Winter may be familiar to us on the prairies, the landscape in Poplar Bay may be more familiar to people from rocky and forested areas.

start quoteIt is light I paint: the sun, and it's corollary, colour.end quote -- Walter J. Phillips

In any case, Phillips has depicted the landscapes by demonstrating the properties of light in these two environments. In Red River in Winter, the snow becomes the  surface(an element of art) The outer or topmost boundary or layer of an object. Colours on any surface are determined by how incident rays of light strike it, and how a surface reflects, scatters, and absorbs those rays. The material qualities of a surface, as well as its form and texture further determine how it is seen and felt. ( See also texture.  for the shadow-image created by the trees. The light from the sun (we can assume) travels down towards the snow and in some places it is blocked by the trees. The  spaceSpace can be the area around, within or between images or elements. Space can be created on a two-dimensional surface by using such techniques as overlapping, object size, placement, colour intensity and value, detail and diagonal lines.  the trees occupy only takes up about half of the image Phillips has provided, and this is interesting because it suggests that the artist sees the shadows cast by the trees to be as important to the picture as the trees themselves.

In Poplar Bay, Phillips presents us with an image of light reflecting off of a surface, rather than just being cast across it. The sun we can't see in this image is still present, only in the form of a reflection from the rippled surface of the water. Notice the detail Phillips has added to this work; the fact, for example, that the regular ripples of the water are disturbed by the boats moving across them. The boats themselves seem to be from another time period, because most boats we encounter today have motors. Or perhaps they are a suggestion that in order to enter into the landscape we should experience it through the old technology of a sailboat.

additional resources Things to Think About
  • Does Poplar Bay look like it might come from another culture or another part of the world? Which one? What is it in this image that reminds you of this culture or country?
  • Notice the different shapes of the trees Phillips has drawn. The trees are growing differently in Red River in Winter than the tree in Poplar Bay. Why might this be? Why do trees in one location grow differently than trees in others? You can answer this by researching trees and by looking at them in nature. For research, you might want to start by researching bonsai, a Japanese art of controlling tree growth.
  • Or, in English or French you could explore trees at Tree Canada
Studio Activity
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Sketching shadows

Go outside with a  sketchbookA book of sketches, or for keeping sketches in.  or a few sheets of paper and a  drawingDepiction of shapes and forms on a surface chiefly by means of lines. Colour and shading may be included. A major fine art technique in itself, drawing is the basis of all pictorial representation, and an early step in most art activities. Though an integral part of most painting, drawing is generally differentiated from painting by the dominance of line over mass. There are many sorts of drawing techniques, varying according to the effect the artist wants, and depending on whether the drawing is an end in itself — an independent and finished work of art -- or a preliminary to some other medium or form — although distinct from the final product, such drawings also have intrinsic artistic value. Preliminary drawings include various exercises (e.g., contour drawing, gesture drawing, figure drawing, drawing from the flat), as well as sketches and studies, cartoons and underdrawings. (  surface, and draw portraits of objects while only looking at their shadows.

  • How much has the angle of the light distorted or bent the object in the shadow-image you've drawn?
  • Compare a few objects this way and notice how drawings made at different times and drawings of different objects are either more or less recognizable.

Shapes from colours

Walter Phillips has made his artworks Red River in Winter and Poplar Bay with blocks of solid colour, but with no texture.  Look, for example, at the white snow in Red River in Winter, or the trunk of the tree or the grey rock in Poplar Bay.

You can make recognizable images using only solid colours.  To make a  landscapeA painting, photograph or other work of art which depicts scenery such as mountains, valleys, trees, rivers and forests. There is invariably some sky in the scene. ( Landscape is also a term that may also refer simply to a horizontally-oriented rectangle, just as a vertically-oriented one may be said to be oriented the portrait way. (  like Phillips’:

  • Cut construction paper or other coloured paper into the shapes you want.
  • Then build your image up by adding the shapes of your landscape cut out of different colours.

Boulet, Roger H.  Walter J. Phillips web site.  Retrieved from the Internet on June 10, 2008 from:

Phillips, Walter J.  ‘Art Quotations by Walter J. Phillips.’  The Painter's Keys Resource of Art Quotations.  Retrieved from the Internet on June 10, 2008 from: J. Phillips.

Phillips, Walter J.  The Technique of the Color Woodcut.  New York:  Brown-Robertson Co. Inc., 1926

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning