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Looms and Landscapes


Those that know Martyn Snell likely know him as a music man. When the retired but still active music teacher isn’t instructing children or adults, or composing a piece of his own, he expresses himself with other artistic endeavors.
A peek inside his home studio not only reveals the musical instruments with which he is more than adept, but the various supplies and tools he uses to craft a variety of watercolour paintings and colourful weavings, which he enjoys doing as a hobby in his golden years.
Although he loves to do painting and weaving today, it wasn’t always the case.
“I did loads of painting in school, and I absolutely loathed it,” said Martyn Snell. “I had no interest in it at all, but my mother showed me in 1989 some basic techniques for putting water into paint and running it together, and I liked that effect.”
Weaving on looms was a similar story, first experiencing it as a student in primary school in England where he grew up. His experience in weaving only last a couple of years in the last ‘50s, but then picked it up again after the turn of the century.
“Then I retired and I started to make my own loom,” said Snell.
When it comes to painting, watercolour paints are his medium of choice, although he’s been known to experience with acrylic a bit as well. His favourite pictures to paint are scenery, particularly British scenery, where he sees a lot more variety.
“I’m inspired by Terry Harrison and Andrew Dibben, who is an artist from Norfolk,” said Snell. “I’m trying some of his techniques; he does a lot of detail work.”
Snell has painted off of pictures that he might see in a newspaper, or ones he sees on the internet, but he has also taken photographs of his own, especially when he travelled back to England and experienced the countryside of his homeland again.
“Sometimes, I’ll just paint things from my own imagination as well,” said Snell, as he showed off a painting of trawlers coming in from a harbour, or an experiment in an orange colour wash signifying a forest fire.
“Painting is very satisfying for me. It’s the way the water and paint flows. With acrylic, you almost always know how it’s going to work out, but with watercolours, there are different ways of doing things.”
And even though he mainly sticks to watercolours, his blank canvas has come in many forms, from literal canvas, to watercolour paper, to pieces of plastic that he acquired from scrap pieces of window blinds, which interacts differently with the paint and requires a slightly different technique.
His curiosity in trying new techniques extends to his weaving projects as well. His studio contains several different looms, from floor looms, peg looms, tapestry looms, plastic looms, card looms, and more.
“I’ve gotten into a winter of weaving, having not done much recently since returning from the U.K. (earlier this year),” said Snell, but expressed a wish to get back into it, particularly when he sees his wife, Jackie, produce knitted projects with great efficiency.
“I like seeing how things come together. Weaving is the enjoyment of textures.”
Weaving is a skill that he enjoys teaching other people as well, showing how simply and cheaply it can be done. His knack of upcycling has had him craft a loom out of an old baby’s crib, or one out of dowels and popsicle sticks, with all producing a different effect of a similar technique.
One technique even had him only using the thread and eight cards with four holes punched in each, which was able to produce a woven ribbon with a purposeful pattern.
“You could even get 32 cards (with this technique),” said Snell. “There are ladies in places like Brazil that will have one end tied around themselves and the other end tied to a tree, and they will have cards in the middle and just rotate them. It’s cheap and easy.”
Admittedly, some looms are more laborious to set up than others, he said, with one loom potentially taking a day to thread the yarn and set the loom up, and possibly two days to actually weave the fabric.
“But, in the end there is the satisfaction at the end of it,” he added.
While he doesn’t sell his weaving projects, he does like to see them put to good use.
“I think the most useful thing about weaving is that you can make certain products, like scarves, and give them to people who maybe haven’t got much clothing,” said Snell. “Our church is doing a lot of knitting for Siloam Mission in Winnipeg, so that is an ideal project.”
And although he likes painting for the enjoyment of it as well, he has been fortunate that people recognize the value of his pieces, and has been successful at selling some of them. He has even been commissioned to paint a few pieces, such as an old fishing boat in Winnipegosis, farms and houses, or a view from Thunderhill.
“What I like about painting landscapes is that it takes you right out of yourself,” said Snell. “I don’t even have music on. I’m totally absorbed.
“You start with a wash on a blank canvas. Wet the surface, dab your paint in, and see what happens. That’s what I like.”

Jeremy Bergen