Dawson City’s Local Colours


It’s hard to believe how much things have changed during my first week in Dawson City. When I arrived last Sunday, the Yukon River was still frozen (in fact I crossed on its ice bridge that very day …) but yesterday it broke up and is now flowing freely. Spring is coming on strong here in the Yukon!

This is a wonderful place. The light is warm on the skin and cool in the eye. There’s space beside and above you everywhere you go. This expanse is filled with people saying hello as you pass each other and ravens making the most bazaar sounds. And, something that I probably enjoy most of all, so many people you meet are talented musicians and artists—which you’ll only find out later, if you happen to overhear them mention to a friend an award they just received in film-making or when you happen to catch them playing bass in a bar.

The land is beautiful, and I’ve taken little local colour pilgrimages every day. While walking with Karen, a legendary hiker in the area, she spotted a moose’s leg bone in the brush on our first hike. Bringing it back to the studio, I was very excited. The next day I hiked up a mountain to visit Veronica, and returned down the mountain with more moose bones, as well as bison, caribou, and even mammoth! Things were going so well, I felt like I was going to create a whole palette in just one week …


However, firing these bones into a colour proved troublesome. Getting the fire hot enough without having my containers break down in the heat took a total of four attempts. It wasn’t until Saturday afternoon that I managed to draw out some black from my little fire pit, but it was worth the wait! All the bones turned out very well, but my new favourite black has to be mammoth ivory black! Back in the day, ivory black was considered the absolute black pigment for artist’s to use, and I can tell why—it’s completely black, and has a velvet opacity. The fact that it comes from 10,000 years before the moral issues surrounding the hunting of our modern elephants for their ivory were raised also means that I feel like I can use it without any qualms of conscience …

My studio here in Dawson City has four long shelves along its inner wall. After my first week, I’ve got one of these full of bone remains and black pigment. Who knows what adventures await the next three shelves?!


My thanks to KIAC and their staff for the invitation and support to be here as Artist in Residence.

2 thoughts on “Dawson City’s Local Colours”

  1. Hi Symeon! Your kids were their usual wonderful selves yesterday.
    What an exciting adventure you’re having! It will be interesting to see the colours you can extract from local rock, bone, etc. We appreciate being on your email list!

  2. So glad to be part of this project, and enjoy showing Symeon my special places in Dawson. Looking forward to seeing some of the resulting iconographies.


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