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Weiming Zhao enjoys painting outdoors so much he has created a plein-air painting almost every day for 17 years. That’s 6,000 paintings.

Traveling and painting ‘inseparable’ for Manitoba artist

Weiming Zhao enjoys painting outdoors so much he has created a plein-air painting almost every day for 17 years. That’s 6,000 paintings.

Most of Zhao’s paintings are scenes of his hometown Brandon, Man. But almost every weekend, the artist drives one hour north to Riding Mountain National Park, a source of constant inspiration (and more than 1,000 paintings).

“I’m part of the Riding Mountain National Park landscape now,” quips the soft-spoken gentleman. “I’m one of the landmarks.”

He says people familiar with his prolific output “get excited about spotting me in action on site. ‘We’ve heard about you,’ they tell me.”

Manitoba artist Weiming Zhao paints a landscape in Riding Mountain National Park.Thomas Fricke / The Globe and Mail

On a recent early morning, as the sun shimmered through spruces along one of the vast park’s 1,900 lakes, a couple and their dog ambled by a group of pulled up canoes. Exhilarated by the dynamic scene, Zhao immediately set up his easel to paint. “The strong contrast of the light and the shadow made me so excited. At the same time, I felt absolute serenity. There is nothing that can make me feel more focused, more peaceful.”

‘Traveling is for the purpose of painting’

Weiming Zhao

Whether he’s portraying a quiet landscape or everyday life in Brandon – Manitoba’s second-largest city – Zhao’s accomplished, impressionistic style embraces the sensory effect of the scene with loose expressive brushwork. The painter says he focuses on light and creates spontaneously to evoke the moment.

Growing up in a remote part of China, during the Cultural Revolution, Zhao found painting and drawing an engrossing pursuit until it waned when he was 18. He taught himself English and, in 1991, he was accepted at Brandon University as an international student.

It was a vacation to Lake of the Woods (the enormous lake with nearly 1,500 islands that borders Manitoba and Ontario) that sparked the painter’s return to his art, after a 23-year fallow.

Zhao’s studio in Brandon, Manitoba, shows the artist’s prolific output of creativity. He makes it a point to paint every day.Thomas Fricke / The Globe and Mail

“My wife suggested it because she remembered that I painted as teenager. We rented a cottage, and everything was just so beautiful: the sunset and haunting sound of the loon reverberating across the mirror-like lake. Immediately, I set up my easel and started to paint. In seven days, I finished eight paintings. From that time, I started my daily practice.”

Now, “travel and painting are inseparable. Traveling is for the purpose of painting.” A new environment is “great for art,” says Zhao. “You are out of your element. You make a mistake. But then suddenly you realize a new perspective, and that is very stimulating.”

He says traveling also makes one more broadminded.

“Canada has such a tapestry of different cultures; when you get to enjoy this with locals, it gives you a fresh outlook.”

The opportunity to expand one’s perspective may be the reason that a recent CIBC poll indicates that 60 per cent of Canadians can’t wait to travel again, and that travel is “the number-one thing they want to spend their pent-up savings on.”

Andrew Wakefield, Director of Aventura Product Management at CIBC, says the CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite Card can help domestic travelers expand those savings.

Weiming Zhao's paintingThe Globe and Mail

Travelers who are new to the CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite Card receive up to 35,000 introductory points – which can be redeemed for an $800 airline ticket to anywhere in Canada, he says. “We’ve got offers on hotels, car rentals, RV rentals, winery tours, and even a 50 per cent discount for gas gift cards.”

In addition, vacationers who travel by car earn 1.5 points for every $1 spent on gas.

Zhao appreciates the opportunity to travel so much that, across the vastness of Canada, he prefers to drive.

“It’s the overture that sets your mood,” he explains. “Let’s say my destination is Rocky Mountain National Park, in Alberta. If I drive through the flat land of the Prairies, it’s almost like a calming set-up. Once you get close to Calgary, suddenly, you see in the distance the Rocky Mountains rise up, and it’s just perfect!”

Zhao’s art thrives on new environments and whenever he travels, he brings along an easel and essential painting tools. “You are out of your element...you realize a new perspective, and that is very stimulating,” he says.Thomas Fricke / The Globe and Mail

Should those accompanying him choose to read a novel while driving to a destination, he’s apt to feel slight displeasure. “It’s sacrilege,” he declares, adding that one best arrives at a place with “a cultivated eye.”

Music, however, is an essential part of the experience.

“When I go somewhere I even decide what kind of music will be played on the sound system. I make sure it’s appropriate.”

He prefers the “heroic music” of Beethoven to serenade the drive along the Rocky Mountain’s Icefields Parkway, as every winding curve fills his windshield with a new view of mountains, glaciers, waterfalls and emerald lakes.

Deemed one of the world’s Top-10 drives, the Icefields Parkway leads to the most beautiful place on Earth, according to Zhao.

“Just a few weeks after I moved to Canada, my brother, who lives in Edmonton, deliberately plotted to take me to Lake Louise, in Banff National Park. It was my initiation to Canada. He wanted to show me the jaw-dropping landscape. Standing at Lake Louise, gazing at the turquoise water, like a gem amid the mountain glaciers, I felt spell-cast and that no place could compare. The memory is so indelible.

“So that’s why, a few years later, when my sister’s family emigrated to Canada, we made sure to go to there first. And when my elderly parents came to Canada, we took them to Lake Louise. That time, I was prepared. I brought my easel and paints.”

Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with CIBC. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved