Other worlds in a Sumac Grove

Standing outdoors in autumn at the edge of a tangled sumac grove is a reminder that some things remain constant even as the world around us transforms.  Birds fly overhead, branches sigh in the wind. Falling leaves add their fragrance to the damp earth.  These earth and sky sensory gifts are all abundant in Bear River. 

I feel a magical otherworldliness in places of unmanaged overgrowth. They return me to childhood fairy tales filled with mysterious forests and magical beings.  Anything and everything can and will happen.

The Enchanted Sumac Grove

Our little sumac grove is one of my favourite painting locations. 

Sumac trees have an unmatched fall presence with their red leaves, dark twisted limbs, and the sweep of their branches. But their crimson leaves are brief. They drop to the ground with the first hard autumn rainfall.

Much of my painting is inspired by the rush of joy I feel when an object or a colour moves me in a scene. I can’t anticipate it and it comes unbidden. The impulse is so strong that I follow it when I can and before it disappears. The experience of painting outdoors lifts my spirit. Indeed, the entire act of painting is my medicine.

My setup. The canvasses are protected from wind gusts by 2 cinder blocks.

Setting up My Outside Studio

These sumac trees are in an out-of-the-way spot end of the house where I don’t usually walk. Half the leaves had already turned from green to red when I noticed them. The arching trees and wild growth in this chaotic, private setting just added to the drama.

I rushed to the studio and dragged my heavy wooden, Italian double easel out to the spot. I felt I needed a huge canvas to capture the expansive beauty of the scene. The wheelbarrow transported my easel, brushes, water, charcoal, paint, rags.

There was a problem with a 4 feet x 6 feet canvas. Size matters but can be a problem. In the past I have depended on the help of friends with trucks to transport large paintings from our house to a gallery, because my car can’t handle anything wider than 40”. My work-around was to tie 2 canvases, each 3 feet x 4 feet together at the back. I also wheelbarrowed concrete bricks to anchor the easel so that the wind wouldn’t turn my canvases into sails!

There is an additional excitement in battling the elements this way. It definitely combines physical exercise with problem-solving.

Painting from the Heart

Once the palette and canvas was set up, the hard part begins. How could I translate my feelings of excitement and joy about the scene onto a blank canvas?

I loosely sketched the large shapes onto the canvases with quick charcoal marks. I wanted to capture the shape and the movement of the grove of sumac as a mass but also to show a few individual trees. 

Working out the layout with charcoal.

The beginning of the painting took place over a series of chilly, blustery days.  It is never my goal to reproduce exactly what I see. Instead, I want to suggest a feeling, movement and to follow the curve of the landscape and then to edit what I am seeing.  Eventually the painting takes precedence over the actual scene and leads the way. I become present in the environment and feel like I could step through the canvas into another world. Everything melts away except an awareness of colour, paint, trees, wind and sky. 

A couple of days later, a wind and rain storm blew in and overnight the red leaves lay shrivelled on the ground in spirals of deep maroon. That was the fall of 2021.

Drying leaves are ready to blow away.

Refining the Painting Inside the Warm Studio

I stored the canvasses until the sumac leaves turned red again. The painting waited. I missed the window in 2022. This past fall in 2023, I returned to the scene.

This time when the leaves fell, I continued to paint it in the studio. The shapes and colours of the painting needed refining. At this point it’s not as much about feeling and intuition as about tweaking colour and adjusting the overall design and composition. I rarely paint from photos because I love being IN the nature. Having something real, three dimensional and living inspires me. But now I needed to closely examine those signature twisted trunks of the sumac.

When I looked at the panels separately, I saw that the left panel had more interest. The right hand panel needed a variety of elements so that it could also work as a strong stand-alone painting like the other panel. It needed contrast; a focal point; defined large and small areas and a variety of marks and brushstrokes.

Painting is a call and response process and each additional stroke of colour affects what’s already there and influences what is still to come. It’s a constant dance with the brush and the colours. I put down some marks, I step back and look, I walk over to pick up some colour on my brush from the palette, apply it and then step back again and assess. Painting is a journey of a thousand marks and the end for me is always unknown until it’s done.

The Painting’s Debut in Bear River

I was very excited to debut this painting during February at Sissiboo Coffee Bar and Gallery in Bear River and now at Sissiboo Coffee in Annapolis Royal until mid April. The day after we hung the show, I sipped a divine cup of coffee and sat and stared at the painting and thought about all the steps it took to bring it to completion. Because it’s a diptych, I designed it so that it can be hung as one large painting or hung as 2 separate ones, depending on wall space.

The exhibition continues at Sissiboo Coffee in Annapolis Royal until April 14, 2024. Open daily until 4pm.

The Enchanted Sumac Grove ©Flora Doehler, 2023 48″x72″ Acrylic on 2 Canvas panels $3,800
The Enchanted Sumac Grove – right panel of diptych ©Flora Doehler, 2023 48″x72″
The Enchanted Sumac Grove – left panel of diptych ©Flora Doehler, 2023 48″x72″ Acrylic on 2 Canvas panels $3,800
My Yoga teacher, Wendy Goudie aka Muddy Duck Yoga and her mama Nancy express their approval of the painting at Sissiboo Coffee Roaster, Annapolis Royal.

When the Ocean Paused for me.

Bay of Fundy Acrylic Painting by Flora Doehler
Bay of Fundy
Acrylic Painting by Flora Doehler 24″ x 30″ $800.

Imagine sitting on an island in the Bay of Fundy, perched high on a rocky cliff. Below you waves crash against rocks, eroding the edge of the island just a little more.
I sat there in the summer of 2012 with my painting gear and looked out to see a still strip of water, calm and illuminated in all that commotion. That is where this painting was born.
The ocean was ever changing that day. First misty-foggy, then cloudy and then for a brief interval, a few clouds parted and the ocean became smooth like glass in one spot. A reflection appeared like a mirage. And then it was gone.

Painting detail.


Falling Blossoms

We’ve had several days of rain here in Bear River and everything is lush. The leaves are still that pale green that spring brings.

I sat in the studio today and listened to a wonderful CBC podcast interview with composer Philip Glass while I painted this scene out of the window. There were many examples he gave about his musical experiences that I could relate to in terms of painting.

painting by Flora Doehler
The Falling Blossoms by Flora Doehler. 12″ x 12″ Acrylic on canvas. $350.

It was an afternoon of bliss to paint this scene and to hear Glass talk about how he too is inspired by Nova Scotia landscape.
Please contact me if you are interested in purchasing this painting.

Here is Metamorphosis from Philip Glass. Sometimes I listen to it while I’m painting.


Paint Like you Mean it

I had an epiphany. I was listening to a woman singing. Her voice was lovely and so was the music.  She obviously had great technique.  But, something was missing. After watching her for a while, I wanted to send her this thought:

I need to sing like I mean it. I need to let the emotion that led me to write this song come out and be expressed.

Perhaps through fatigue or shyness, she was just going through the motions that evening.
And then it occurred to me that the same is true with painting or with any creative pursuit. It must be injected with some confidence, some passion and some Raison d’être.

Do I paint like I mean it?

Painting by Flora Doehler. c2010
Painting by Flora Doehler. c2010

I certainly try to. When I paint it is because I get a feeling of inspiration when I view a particular thing or scene. It sends me to my art materials and I have to work on it right away. Sometimes it all goes wrong, and in my opinion the work falls flat. But unlike a musician, a painter can revisit her work and overlay it with more of the energy and feeling of the initial encounter.

What makes a great painting or a memorable song is more than technique. It’s an expression of a deep energy and feeling. So embrace that passion that inspired you in the first place and use it as the seed of a new creation.


And please, if you can, join me in a celebration of my recent paintings. I would like to share my inspiration with you.

Summer on Brier Island, by Flora Doehler, c. 2012.
Summer on Brier Island, by Flora Doehler, c. 2012.

 Saturday, January 26 – February 3A BRUSH WITH LIFE: paintings by Flora Doehler 

@ the Rebekah downstairs location (1890 Clementsvale Rd.) in Bear River.

Gallery opening with refreshments on Sat Jan 26, 1 – 4 pm.
I will be at the gallery from 1 pm to 4 pm (or by appointment) on the following days:
• Sat. Jan. 26, Sun. Jan. 27
• Thur. Jan. 31, Fri. Feb. 1, Sat. Feb. 2, Sun. Feb. 3
I’ll be painting starting on Thur. Jan. 31. All welcome.

For more information, please email me at flora.doehler@gmail.com

Mixed media by Flora Doehler. c 2013.

Show of Paintings – Jan / Feb 2013

Hi there!  I’m thrilled to tell you that I’m having a showing of my paintings in Bear River at the end of January.  This will be an opportunity for me to show large paintings from the last couple of years in one space.

I will work on a painting onsite during the show.

Saturday, January 26 – February 3: A BRUSH WITH LIFE: paintings by Flora Doehler

the Rebekah
 downstairs location (1890 Clementsvale Rd.) in Bear River.

Gallery opening with refreshments on Sat Jan 26, 1 – 4 pm.
I will be at the gallery from 1 pm to 4 pm (or by appointment) on the following days:
• Sat. Jan. 26, Sun. Jan. 27
• Thur. Jan. 31, Fri. Feb. 1, Sat. Feb. 2, Sun. Feb. 3
I’ll be painting starting on Thur. Jan. 31. All welcome.

For more information, please email me at flora.doehler@gmail.com

Summer on Brier Island, by Flora Doehler, c. 2012.
Summer on Brier Island, by Flora Doehler, c. 2012.

Here is one of a series of short videos to show you some of the paintings that will be on display.

Painting Sumachs

It’s been raining here for a few days so it was wonderful to see the sun today. It is lovely to go outside again to capture this sumach scene in front of our house.

The reds, oranges and greens are stunning.

Just like painting other plant out of doors, the time to capture this brilliant display of colour is just a few short weeks.

I start the drawing on canvas with watercolour crayons.

Next, I fix the drawing with matt medium.

My set-up was on-the-fly so I sat on the ground and leaned my canvas against a tree stump. That way, I was ‘in’ the sumachs. I felt a bit like Alice (in Wonderland).

Painting detail showing my sgraffito marks.

I like the dark patterning that goes through the painting. When this is dry, I’ll have a better idea about how much of the original crayon colour is showing. Then, I’ll make my final changes.  Painting by Flora Doehler, 2012. acrylic. 36″ x 36″

I narrowed my pallet of Golden fluid acrylics down to yellow, green-gold, purple, pyrole red, and a cerulean blue mixed with white.

I can’t wait to work on this tomorrow and to finish another Sumach painting that I started ‘in season’ last fall and is waiting to be finished this week.

Painting using Complimentary Colours as an Undercoat

I just spend a fabulous week painting on Brier Island, Nova Scotia where the Bay of Fundy meets the Atlantic Ocean. I went there with other artists and you can read more about it here.

I want to show you another way of working with acrylic and watercolour sticks.

Brier Island painting by Flora Doehler, 2012

On Brier Island, looking towards Meteghan.

During the trip I noticed one of the other artists creating beautiful little watercolors with her watercolor sticks.  Another artist was using a underpainting in a complementary color to the main color  of her painting.   I  have used both of those methods/materials but it got me thinking;  what if I used my watercolor sticks as the underpainting and chose colors that would be complimentary to the local paint color? In other words, what if I used a red crayon underneath where I would be painting a green tree and allowed some of that red to show through?


Brier Island
Summer on Brier Island, by Flora Doehler, c. 2012.


Brier Island
Pond Cove

Brier Island Afternoon
Brier Island Afternoon (sold)

Westport on Brier Island. Ink drawing by Flora Doehler, 2012.

I had some Derwent  watercolor artbars. I love their triangular shape because it’s possible to mark the canvas with broad strokes.

Drawing on canvas with watercolour sticks.

I drew my back ground using the complementary colors. This was a good exercise in reading the landscape as a series of shapes — although I must admit I deviated from the plan a little when it came time to painting.

Fixing the watercolour crayon by brushing matt medium over the canvas.

In order to ‘fix’ my drawing and to prevent it from dissolving into the paints, I brushed matte medium over the watercolor crayon and something very exciting happened. The medium dissolved and activated the crayon drawing making it blurry but also making the color of it spread into intense colour.

The intensity of the colour was brought out by the matt medium.

After the medium dried, I added more medium to the surface and then painted using my fluid acrylics. This is so that I can scratch into it and reveal the crayon colour underneath.

Briar Island painting by Flora Doehler. 16″ x 16″

I’m looking forward to developing new work using this method. And it just goes to show you the benefit from working with other artists and from having a good chunk of uninterrupted painting time.