On the Road: Letter from Banff

Letter from banff header

October 27, 2012
I’ve just returned from my first visit to Canada in over 25 years!

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, my “traveling the world lifestyle” has not been going exactly according to plan. My April move to Nebraska was supposed to facilitate full-time travel. But finances got in the way.

Which, as I’ve also mentioned before, was perfect, because it’s allowed me to focus on my painting–and that has been, and continues to be, a wild, exciting trip all its own.

Anyway, my original vision was to spend a couple of months getting settled in Nebraska, then taking off again to someplace with palm trees and beaches and beautiful brown-skinned men.

I had not pictured a trip to the not-so-tropical Canadian Rockies.

But there you go. If I’ve learned anything since I started this “On the Road” blog, it’s that plans are just something you make so the surprises are more exciting.

I have a new collector named John who lives in Banff, Alberta. Over the past few months John and I have developed quite a correspondence. He works in a gallery, he is an aspiring artist himself, and he also writes great letters. I was intrigued by his insights into the whole artist-gallery-marketing thing.

The more we “talked” via e-mail, the more I thought it would be great if I could just hang out with John for a few days and brainstorm, talk painting, etc. I also wanted to visit the gallery where he works. So, since I’ve recently overcome a lot of my inhibitions regarding asking my friends and supporters to host me, I wrote to him and invited myself to visit for a week. Fortunately, he said yes!

That’s how, at the beginning of October, I found myself flying north to Calgary instead of south to the tropics.

Bus to banff 1

Bus to banff 2

Bus to banff 3

This was my third time to Canada and my first time in Alberta. From the airport in Calgary it was a 2-hour bus ride to Banff. The photos above were shot from the bus, starting with leaving Calgary with the mountains in the distance, then gradually approaching the foothills, then starting to get into the Rockies themselves.

Ds outside hotel

I was dropped off at the door of a huge old Scottish castle of a hotel called the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, where John met me.

John showed me around a bit, and the day after I arrived, he took me to work with him. This involved standing outside in the cold while John and another staffer worked out the engineering problems of transferring a 9-foot 900-pound sculpture of an eagle from one vehicle to another. This was actually fairly interesting (I had, after all, wanted to know more about the inner workings of a successful gallery), but just the same it was too f***ing cold!

I also spent some time in the gallery, where it was NOT so cold, and enjoyed a lot of great art.

John was scheduled to drive the van with the eagle sculpture in it to another gallery in Jasper a couple of days after that, and I was going along for the ride. Jasper is about 4 hours’ drive north of Banff, even deeper in the mountains, and even colder. I felt like I was really venturing farther and farther into the Great White North. But it was beautiful, and an adventure, and I looked forward to it.

Ds by lake

As things turned out, John drove the van to Jasper, and I followed him in his car. It was an amazingly scenic drive, and we stopped fairly often so I could take pictures.


Jasper, like Banff, is beautiful and COLD. There I accompanied John to a Canadian Thanksgiving dinner on October 8 at the home of the owner of the gallery, and it was a wonderful evening. I got to meet more artists and more gallery people, and absorbed a lot more gallery-inner-workings lore. The next day we drove back to Banff just in time to help put together an event at the hotel.


To promote the gallery, two of their best-known painters were going to be part of the “entertainment” for a conference of urban planners. This turned out to be fun for me in an unexpected way. When I was traveling all over the U.S. in the early 1990s doing lectures and art shows, I learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t when you’re doing art-related events in hotel ballrooms. As we were setting up for the event I realized my experience could be useful here…and, well, to be honest, I kind of took over. But it was exactly what was needed, and after the event, everybody thanked me and said they were glad I’d been there. I was happy because the event had been a big success and I’d been able to contribute significantly.

Hotel event 1

Hotel event 2

The artists, Linda Wilder and Alice Helwig, were both terrific landscape painters and did a great job of painting while also interacting with interested observers. Afterward, John and I and the two artists went out for beer and pizza and I totally enjoyed spending time with them. I’ve never really hung out with artists, but after this trip I think I should do more of it.

Overall, my experience of being an unofficial part-time employee of the gallery was interesting and, as I realized once I was there and involved, exactly the kind of experience I was hoping for.

This “I didn’t know I had planned it until it was happening” thing is a recurring theme for me, and I learn more about myself every time I write another chapter in this blog…I seem to be able to create great experiences for myself on a subconscious level, by trusting my gut and making plans that may not even make sense to me on the face of it…but then as they’re playing out, I realize they were just what I intended, without knowing it consciously.

This happened in another way on the Banff trip as well, via the “mini-workshops” I gave John.

In our e-mail correspondence I’d been giving John some tips on painting. I had a vague idea of giving him a kind of workshop while I was there, though I hadn’t done any planning or anything. But, again, it worked out exactly as my subconscious had intended.

Ds mixing paints

It’s been a lot of years since I have taught drawing, and I’ve never really taught painting. But I had a lot of fun doing these ‘workshops’ (we did 3 of them during the week I was there, each lasting about 3 hours), and from the results, I’d say I was pretty effective as a teacher. I realized I could easily do a year’s worth of workshops and still have tons of material to impart. Hmmm…I’m getting ideas!

As I write this, I’m thinking about my age, and how I sometimes forget how many years of experience I’ve accumulated. Then I have experiences like the hotel event and the workshops I did with John, where abilities and skills I’d forgotten I had come to the fore, and I just slip back into that role, but with the added confidence that age brings.

The same thing is happening to me a lot these days when I paint. Over and over I realize, I KNOW HOW TO DO THIS. There is always more to learn, and god knows I still have failed paintings, but now, after over 30 years of doing this, I feel like I’m starting to get the hang of it. And it’s a nice solid feeling, this confidence that comes to a large degree simply from the accumulation of experiences.

So overall, I’d have to say my excursion to the Frozen North was worth the (minor) discomfort. I had some great experiences and, despite the rugged beauty of the Canadian Rockies in October, I am more confirmed than ever in my love of the tropics and my feeling that that’s where I belong. Which is why I’m headed to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic in the next couple of weeks. Watch for that report!


0 replies on “On the Road: Letter from Banff

  • Lilly Antoneavic

    Dear Douglas,
    You are one sweet artist.. I fell in love with your art and style way back in early 2000..
    I did a small drawing of you once, (hope you remember)..

    I am inspired by your art and sometimes do portraits of my husband in the poses of some of your lovely boys..

    Thank you Douglas for your art, inspiration and your kind dear self..
    This world needs people like you..
    Hugs from,
    Lilly Antonaevic no one fan for ever.. xxxxxx

  • Jim

    Never been to Canada but boy what a hotel. would love to go fishing on that lake. Nice blog and love the white pencil portrait. Thanks Douglas for being you.

  • Kevin Olafsson

    Dear Doug,

    Wish I had heard of your trip to Banff… I would have loved to host you here in Vancouver (well actually Squamish… near Whistler.) I am still a big fan of your work. I was surprised you chose to leave Hawaii but am thrilled to see how happy and inspired you are in your work.

    Kevin (Violinist)

    • Douglas Simonson

      hey kevin, thanks for saying hi. good to hear from you after all these years. if i’m going to be in BC in the future i will let you know!

  • Steve Johnston

    the Scottish castle is fantastic from the outside and would love to visit and stay there. The beauty of the rockies is breathtaking as well. With age comes wisdom, I am finding that out also…….


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