“Brightening Up the Night – Iroquois Falls” – Watercolour Selected for the 63rd Annual NOAA Juried Exhibition

From “In Real Life” to Artwork

Canon EOS 60D

(Brightening Up The Night – Iroquois Falls, watercolour on 300-lb cold press paper. Approximately 19″ H X 28″ W, without frame.

Back in December of 2017, I drove out to Iroquois Falls one evening to see the Ontario Northland Holiday train on its “Brighten the Night” tour. Started a few years, the new tradition featured a lit-up train that toured stopped at various communities in Northeaster Ontario, including Moosonee, Kirkland Lake, Cochrane, and Iroquois Falls among others. Children and the young-at-heart watched as the train stopped at a local station or depot, and got to see musical performances by costumed characters, meet Santa Claus in the caboose, and if they were lucky, also get a chance to sit up in the driver’s cab and blast the horn. Each community along the way also had activities, such as roasting marshmallows outside, or raising funds for local charities. Since the Ontario Northlander train to Toronto ceased operations in 2012 with the provincial government divesting the the Ontario Northland Transporation Commission, many children attending the visits likely never seen a train up close in their hometown.


The night ONR 1809 (an EMD GP38-2 diesel-electric locomotive) arrived in downtown Iroquois Falls in early December, it was around -30°C, but that did not deter families and rail fans from visiting – many, like myself – drove in from Timmins, since our section of the railroad was closed and removed in 1990.

The coloured L.E.D. ropes and the way they reflected on the train and the snow, along with the scene being at night, inspired me to take on the challenge of trying to depict the scene it watercolours – perhaps as first-ever full sheet (22″ X 30″) painting… however, I did not commit to the painting until over a year later.


The following year, I decided to visit the train again to get some more reference photographs. Again, it was a cold, clear December night, although this time, because of my work schedule, I drove out an hour and a half to Swastika, Ontario, which is about 8 kilometres west of Kirkland Lake. This time, the train had a different colour scheme, most notably at the front of the locomotive, where the bright green lights of the previous year had been replaced with blue and a string of alternating red and green lights, which made the front of the train considerably darker than when seen in Iroquois Falls. A change I liked, though, was that the wreath was now lit up with red and white lights, instead of just the cool white lights in 2017.


As a bonus, I also got to come inside and have a look in the cab for a few minutes.


Since the railroad stop in Swastika sits out by a bridge over the Blanche River and the “skyline” of notable buildings is further back, I decided to base the painting n the train as seen in Iroquois Falls in 2017. In order to compose the scene, I superimposed one of my photographs over a screen shot from Google Street View, which shows Ambridge Drive, approximately where the train stopped.


Additionally, since the wheel trucks were very dark in the reference photographs, I borrowed a friend’s HO-Scale (1:87) locomotive (seen here with an older ONR Livery) to take some more reference photographs in early 2019.


Over several sessions between late April and mid-May of 2019, I worked on the train painting, beginning with drawing the whole scene on a grid, with each square being 20mm X 20mm. The drawing filled almost at an entire 22 X 30″ sheet of Arches 300-lb cold press paper.

Train Painting 04

Since details of the night sky did not show up in the original photograph, and not many details would be seen in real life, to take some artistic license in creating the background, I used Stellarium, a free, open source, desktop planetarium (and also website), which I could set to simulate the night sky over Iroquois Falls on December 07, 2017 at approximately 6:31 p.m. EST. Using my memory and Google Maps for reference, I also set Stellarium in the approximate direction of the night sky as seen facing to the South/South South West.

After a couple of near all-nighters, I finished the painting in early June and submitted the digital entry through the Porcupine Art Club for the 63rd Northern Ontario Art Association Juried Exhibition, and was delighted to learn that it was selected for the 2019/2020 touring show, which began in Cochrane, Ontario in September of 2019. Cochrane is the starting point of the last ONR passenger train, which goes up to Moosonee – literally “the end of steel” for the rail line.

This is the second time I have had a work selected for the NOAA – the first time was in 2017.

Train Photo in Cochrane

(Posing next to my painting in the gallery at the Cochrane Public Library on September 13, 2019. Part of the other painting in the background is by fellow Porcupine Art Club artists and N.O.A.A. President, Bruce MacKinnon.)

The painting was matted and framed by Dale Pessah at her new store, Artsie Custom Framing, here in Timmins, and it makes its tour through the various NOAA hometowns until September of 2020, where it ends in North Bay – also home to the Ontario Northland head office.

Artists from the Porcupine Art Club selected for this year’s show:

  • Shafik Al-Hamdani
  • Ellen Catherwood
  • Cathy Cribbs
  • Karina Miki Douglas-Takayesu
  • Bruce MacKinnon


Just a few weeks after the opening of the NOAA show, Ontario Northland announced that there would be no Christmas train on tour for 2019, because of a shortage in staff. It is unknown whether the train will return this year.

The 63rd Annual NOAA Juried Exhibit is on from January 07, 2020 to January 26, 2020 at the Timmins Museum: National Exhibition Centre. After Timmins, the next stop on the tour is with the Ansonville Arts Club in Iroquois Falls, beginning on February 04, 2020.

Local Media Articles About the NOAA Exhibition in Timmins

  1. C.T.V. Northern Ontario’s Website
  2. The Daily Press
  3. Mytimminsnow.com (Moose FM 93.1)
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