This post on forestART was created in collaboration with Ness Core Ventures on a two-day trip I took in August, 2019 as a guest at Ness Creek and Nesslin Lake. But as always, the adventures, stories and information provided in these articles are genuinely and authentically my own and based on personal experiences.
The first thing I did when I arrived at the Ness Creek site for forestART was say hi to the chickens.
It’s become a bit of a tradition each time I visit to wander down to the Forest Garden and cluk at them as they run in and out of their coop. There’s something oddly charming about their lives amongst the leafy permaculture garden. I can’t help but smile every time I see them.
My last visit to Ness Creek, located near Big River, Saskatchewan, was during winter. It was my first time in the colder season experiencing Ness hospitality.
Myself and fellow former Saskatchewanderer Kevin Dunn hit up the cross-country ski trails, skated on the rink, relaxed in the sauna and enjoyed our stay in the tiny cabins on-site.
This time, I was back to experience the community of Ness in its busiest season.
Ness Creek Community Site
The site is well-known across Western Canada for some of the province’s most popular festivals including Ness Creek Music Festival, Electric Sky Music Festival and the Northern Lights Bluegrass Camp and Music Festival.
During the week, it’s also host to a variety of other events and activities. This particular week in August, I was coming out to learn about forestART and maybe tag along for an afternoon of fun at the Forest Kids Summer Camp.
forestART is an event offered twice a summer – once in July and once in August. Its purpose is to help people of any age connect (or reconnect) to their creative side and immerse themselves in instructor-led courses.
This particular week there were seven classes with 20 hours of instruction offered: blacksmithing, mixed media, Plein Air painting, jewellery making, willow basketry, printmaking and woodworking.
The main area of the festival site, dubbed “Downtown Ness,” effortlessly transitioned from an electronic music festival on the weekend to an art camp during the week.
The beer gardens were transformed into jewellery making, the main stage hosted mixed media, a pop-up tent provided shelter for basket weaving and the Jack Millikin Centre housed both Plein Air painting and printmaking.
It was my goal to chat with people taking the courses and learn why they had come out to forestART.
Everyone’s reasons for signing up varied a little. Some commented it was a great opportunity for a vacation. Others came out because their children were attending forestcamp and it was the perfect chance for them to be creative as well.
Several told me that it was an opportunity to get back into an activity they had participated in years ago and finally had the time for again.
But the overarching consensus was based around the desire to learn a new craft or advance their skills at something they were already passionate about.
The Art of Printmaking
Stopping in at printmaking in the Jack Millikan Centre, I watched half a dozen students work away on different projects. Some came with ideas of what they wanted to create and some came to learn procedures and skills.
Everyone’s different purpose in the class was clear by the diversity in their projects. One participant from Meacham was learning how to make prints so he could decorate his beehives back at home. Another was learning the basics of printmaking and practising by creating prints on containers.
In willow basketry, instructor Morley Maier planned structured lessons for the students. First, he taught everyone how to properly weave on basket frames that already had the ribs put together. Then they all worked towards creating the same type of basket.
I was curious about the entire process and asked Morely where he gets his willow. He told me that all but one kind is gathered locally.
“The willow can be gathered along the highway and municipal roadway ditches after it goes dormant in the autumn and winter,” Morley said.
“Gathering is my favourite part as it’s the opportunity to spend time outside but it’s also a great chance for birding while collecting.”
Once Morley selects what he needs, he keeps the willow in a deep freeze where it remains viable for two to three years.
With the current interior design trends of natural textiles and biophilia, willow basketry is an ideal class to emphasize the relationship and connection between humankind and nature.
In the Heat of the Forge
As I made my way up to blacksmithing I was a little nervous. Instructor M. Craig Campbell had arranged to have me come by to not just watch, but to get in on the art of hammering hot metal.
It’s something I’ve never tried before and I wasn’t sure how great I would be at it.
But as soon as I walked into the blacksmith compound, I knew I was in good hands. More than half a dozen forges and anvils were set up and everyone was working collaboratively around the coal fires. While one person kept the fire stoked to a toasty 1400 degrees Celsius another would heat their rod of metal to work on.
The act of manipulating iron sounds easy in theory. Heat the metal up to beyond-red-hot temperatures then quickly ply it into the shape of the object you’re attempting to create. Craig’s demonstration on how to pound a round rod of iron into a point looked quite simple.
But I knew there was an art to this craft that takes years to hone.
As Craig handed me the rod and gave me instructions I was excited to see how well I would do. Once the rod was hot enough, I quickly transferred it to the anvil and started pounding with the hammer.
As I had thought, it was tricky: my rod flattened and curved instead of shaving to a nice point. But thankfully, metal at these high temperatures is fluid and I was able to put it back in the forge to reheat and try again.
With some guided coaxing by Craig, I was slowly able to shape my rod into a (sort of) point. Although it wasn’t perfect, I was pleased with my attempt from the brief 15-minute lesson.
In only a few short days, everyone had progressed from basic hammering skills similar to mine to being able to twist and curve the metal into useful objects like bottle openers. Perhaps next year I’ll come back for the full week and see how my skills also progress.
Off the Grid Mixed Media
Wandering up to the main stage, I met mixed media instructor Miranda Jones.
With more than 30 years of experience exploring the elements of composition, colour, texture and contrast, Miranda’s intentions were to push her students comfort zones when creating art while helping them hone their inner creative voice.
But most importantly, she wanted to keep the class fun.
“My favourite part of teaching is that everyone gets the same instructions, but the work that is created is a vastly different output,” Miranda told me as I watched her expertly use a Dremel to carve lines on her own canvas of wood.
As I wandered the tables set up on the stage, it was easy to see just how different each participant’s vision was. Bold and bright paint colours swirled across wooden tiles as did moodier, earthy tones. Textures were added with yarn and cloth as well as with objects brought by each participant.
At the end of the week, each student places their finished pieces in a mosaic to show off their work. As Miranda pointed out when they set them together “it’s a perfect representation of the creativity and imagination everyone has in designing their art.”
By late afternoon, all tools were laid to rest and everyone joined together for a social hour. The “Boreal Bite” appetizers crafted by Kjelti Anderson were foraged directly from the nearby Boreal forest and the permaculture garden.
The “palette cleanse” location rotates to a different spot each day which gives forestART participants the chance to get to know one another outside their classes as well as see what everyone else is working on.
Build Your Own forestART Experience at Ness Creek
While most people stay on-site throughout forestART, the program is designed for complete flexibility in terms of accommodation and meal plans.
Depending on your budget, forestART lets you build your own unique experience.
For those preferring to cook on their own, meals can easily be prepared at campsites or in the communal kitchen.
But Ness Creek also makes the experience a complete immersion by providing a lunches option or full meals catered by Wanda from Third & Main in Big River (called Third & Ness in the on-site food court at Ness.)
Staying at Ness Creek
Ness Creek has some of the coziest and cutest cabins in Saskatchewan to stay in during any season, not just during events and festivals.
There are ten winterized cabins, several rustic summer cottages and dozens of campsites to pitch a tent or pull up to with a van or RV.
My two favourite cabins? The Cedar Suite and BillDing.
Registration for forestART 2020 opens in Winter 2020 but you can subscribe to their newsletter to learn about early registration and exclusive deals.