Monday, 5 February 2018

The Talisman

I often find myself contemplating ravens. I always thought they were interesting birds - highly intelligent and resourceful, known as The Trickster by First Nations cultures, and in other cultures as a symbol of good or evil, life or death, depending on who's doing the labeling. However, it's only in recent years I've given them much consideration and I now find I have developed some very personal feelings about them. In fact, the raven has taken on the quality of a talisman for me.

On a terrible February day not so long ago - a day of loss and sorrow - one of the few things I recall clearly is the sound of ravens calling in the tree tops. In the months and now years that have passed since then I have been acutely aware of these iconic black birds. 

I often hear and glimpse them in the high trees around my Mayne Island cottage, giving me an appreciation for their vast and varied vocabulary and for the soft whooshing sound made by their wings as they move about the neighbourhood. From eavesdropping on their conversations and spying on their interactions I have come to understand just how social they are, how they form relationships, how they care for one another. In many ways, they are not unlike we humans.

I have had dozens of up-close encounters with them, including high in the Rocky Mountains...


...deep down in the Grand Canyon...


... on the vast, sandy beaches of Vancouver Island's wild west coast...


...and on the picturesque gravelly beach that's a stone's throw from my Mayne Island cottage; a place where I like to watch the sun rise (the ravens appear to like to do that too).



These smart, social, statuesque birds are with me, it seems, wherever I go. I have collected stray feathers and greatly admire the iridescent blackness of them. When I see a raven, I acknowledge it and like to pause to appreciate its presence.

It seems only fitting that a raven should feature in my art. In particular, a silk painting I call The Talisman.


I gave it this title for a handful of reasons. While working on it, I found myself reflecting on my life's learnings and experiences. The dark plumage with its intricate patterns is an apt metaphor for a sorrowful time shrouded in grief and the somber journey out from that shadowy place. The bird's bright eye reflects wisdom gleaned from those experiences, and its sharp, sturdy beak points the way forward. The cherry represents the sweetness life may yet have to offer. Shades of purple and magenta resonate for reasons I can't articulate. 

It's an important, personal piece - a milestone of sorts - invested with emotion. While I completed the painting some time ago it wasn't till now that I felt right about sharing its story here.

With a few notable exceptions, I rarely keep much of the art I make. However The Talisman is one of those exceptions. This painting will stay with me and help guide my onward journey as well as serve as a reminder of where I've been.
_______________________________________

Dedicated to Thomas Kalpatoo, December 21, 1948 - February 17, 2015

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Walking into a New Year

This is the time of year when there's a lot of talk about new year's resolutions - often with regard to improving one's commitment to an exercise regime. I'm the kind of person who thinks we can change things in our life at any time - not just at landmark moments like turning the page of a calendar - and I also believe in having some sort of daily physical activity that doesn't involve making a special effort that could prove difficult to maintain. However, I do believe a new year can be an excellent time to acknowledge what works in our lives and, in doing so, reinforce good habits.

One of my own favourite habits is my daily practice of getting out for a walk. Sometimes it's a short-ish amble, other times it's a vigorous hike that goes on for hours, or even days. For me, walking simply feels good on a physical level. I love the way my body moves naturally, the way my heart rate elevates with a hill or a bit of speed, the rhythmic feel of my stride, and how I become aware of my posture. 

Physical benefits aside, it's also a mental break - a time to problem-solve, or come up with fresh ideas, or sort through some nagging issue, or simply to daydream. Sometimes I memorize poetry while I walk. 

As an artist, walking sustains my creativity. I never know what I'll see to inspire me! Other times a moment of simple beauty will intangibly nourish my creative spirit. I might not rush home and create a piece of art based on that moment, but it reinforces how gorgeous the world is and reminds me to appreciate my place in it.


My favourite kind of walk involves a beach

Walking might appear to be a solitary pastime but I don't feel like I'm ever alone. My trusty cocker spaniel Lily is virtually always by my side, plus there are the other dogs and people we sometimes meet, and the wild creatures we invariably encounter - birds and occasionally something larger. Sometimes I walk with a human friend and we have a chance to chat and catch up on one another's lives. Always my thoughts and ideas and memories keep me company.



My coloured pencil portrait of my walking companion Lily.

Above all, going for a walk is an opportunity to be outdoors, to breathe the air, and to appreciate the simple gifts life offers. I'm particularly fond of walking in wild spaces but any space will do. When I'm on a ferry, as I often am, I like to walk laps around the deck - benefiting from the physical activity and appreciating the ever changing vista of sea and shoreline.


A summer sunset viewed from a ferry deck.

I have celebrated walking in a couple of past silk paintings and I have more ideas for this series that I'm hoping to execute before too long.


Walking the Dog - October



Walking the Dog - April

While walking, I have captured countless other moments that eventually work their way into my art.


My silk painting Dune Walker which originated
during a beach walk in Mexico.

I have made momentous decisions, such as during my 2016 sojourn in the Grand Canyon where I tested my physical abilities and found the inner strength I needed to move forward in my life.



I have seen sights I would not encounter other than on foot.


My pastel drawing of Oystercatchers as seen on one of
my favourite Mayne Island walks

Much has been said about the value of walking. Recently I picked up an illustrated book of quotations by Henry David Thoreau for whom walking and nature were as fundamental to life as breathing. His enthusiasm for walking in all kinds of weather is inspiring and helps me to get out the rain gear on those soggy days that are so plentiful here on the "wet" coast. I also recently read an article on how the simple practice of walking sets our minds free to roam in creative directions - something essential for those of us involved in art making. And of course the physical benefits of daily exercise are not to be sneezed at either. The ways in which our bodies and our brains benefit are well documented. 

On that note, I am walking purposefully into 2018 - not only because of its many benefits for my body, mind and spirit, and for the creative inspiration, but because of the simple joy it brings me. 

Now I'm off to put on my walking shoes. Come on Lily!



Sunday, 17 December 2017

Year of the Owl

2017 has been, for me, a year of transformation. I decided it would be a time to let go of a lot of obligations and nurture my art-making self. I have travelled, I have experienced the joy of spending as much time at my Mayne Island refuge as I possibly could, I have had the deep satisfaction of seeing a small art studio erected there, and I have remembered how to laugh and to find joy every day. And I have been making art!

My unofficial guide through this transformative year has been that elusive species of bird: the owl.

It started in January when I visited the Northern Spotted Owl breeding facility in Langley, BC - a rare opportunity to view a species that's nearly vanished from my home region where it was once abundant. Later that month, while spending a couple of blissful weeks on the island of Maui, I caught a glimpse of a Hawaiian short-eared owl. It was a brief sighting (too quick for a photo) that happened while I was wandering around one of Maui’s state parks. On an island where the native species of birds are edging towards extinction for a variety of reasons, this felt like a rare gift.

In my mind, seeing an owl somehow always feels like a special privilege, one that some people never experience. This year the barred owls of Mayne Island seemed bent on being my companions. They regularly showed themselves to me on my walks and swooped through the trees around my cottage. 



Their calls often echoed through the woods around my little island home – most memorably on a full-moon night in August. One October day a gorgeous specimen landed on the road right in front of me and stared straight into my eyes before silently rising back into the air and disappearing into the woods. 



Even in the wooded ravine adjacent to my urban townhome on the mainland, the owls came to me. Not just the familiar barred owls but a glorious juvenile great horned owl. For several weeks over the summer he/she was there, seemingly waiting for me when I went for my morning walk with Lily. As the summer waned he/she quietly departed but I still scan the trees in hopes of another sighting.




These wild moments aside, it was a different owl experience that has found its way into my art. At England’s Whipsnade Zoo I attended a presentation about birds. Several species took turns flying freely in the open air before returning to their handlers on command, including a familiar bald eagle, a band of African hawks, couple of raucous parrots, and some vividly coloured macaws that generated wistful memories of past travels in South America. And then .... there it was: a great grey owl, massive and magnificent.



Seeing this wondrous bird reminded me of a rare sighting years before when, on horseback, I wandered into a grove of huge trees occupied by a pair of great grey owls - a moment I’ll never forget in a place that’s long since been cleared for a housing development. I was inspired to create this coloured pencil drawing I call "Out From the Shadows":


Owls are thought to represent anything from omens of death, to indicators of change, to symbols of feminine strength. However I like what poet Mary Oliver says – that they conjure thoughts of “pleasure, good luck and a happy life”.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Rural Routes

Earlier this year I had the privilege of spending some time in the United Kingdom. I visited family in England, spent a couple of days in Scotland, and generally enjoyed as much as possible of what there was to see and do.

A huge highlight was a week of long-distance walking along the Hampshire coast on England's southern shore (I touched on this adventure in an earlier post "Where Does the Time Go"). I was able to not only enjoy wild coastal environments and urban cities, but also some rural countryside.

As always, wherever I go my experiences and the creatures I meet along the way provide inspiration for the art I create.

A brood of sunbathing piglets became the incentive to create a colourful silk painting...


 


A herd of curious heifers provided me with inspiration for another...





And a handsome gypsy pony posed for another painting in my series of silk horse "portraits"...



There are many other moments from my UK trip that may, at some point, provide artistic fuel. However for now, working on these three new paintings has been a satisfying experience. Not only was I able to re-live those moments in the English countryside, it took me on another journey back down memory lane to my own rural roots growing up on the family farm in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia. I find it fascinating how new experiences often parallel the old, and fresh memories connect us with our past.

And now... I'm heading back into the studio to see what lies ahead!

Thursday, 5 October 2017

The Balancing Act

Art is, for me, a pretty serious endeavour. It's not only my passion, it's my vocation. It's how I express myself and it's also how I pay my bills. Finding a balance between "art as work" and "art as a pleasurable activity" can, at times, be a challenge. One thing I have learned is that when I get too serious - about what's going on in my life or about my art itself - my creativity suffers.

Over time I have developed a few strategies to help maintain my creative equilibrium. One is weekly life drawing sessions where my focus is simply on the act of drawing. I can easily lose myself figuring out how to capture the essence of that day's model, and what I produce is for nobody but me. I can experiment, play, goof off or get serious about it - whatever feels right for the day or the moment. No pressure, no fuss - it's about me, the model, and my drawing materials. Sometimes it's fun, sometimes it's not, but it's always a welcome break.


Another strategy is getting outdoors into a natural space. I do this every single day, even if it's only for a little while. Being out in the air, walking among trees or by the water, listening to birds, feeling the crunch of leaves or grit of sand under my feet is soothing to my soul. It lifts my spirit and helps my mind find a peaceful place where thoughts can drift and sometimes solutions can be found for problems that seemed unsolvable indoors. When I'm on the mainland I head into the ravine across the street where during my wanderings I might be lucky enough to have a close encounter with a woodland resident like this great horned owl:

 
When I'm at my Mayne Island studio, all I have to do is open the door and the forest air pours in. It never fails to make me feel good.


Every so often, I also like to take part in a class or workshop where I can learn something new or tap into a different part of my creativity. I recently had the infinite pleasure of taking a multi-day workshop that focussed on nothing but simply being creative. It drew me into a world where art making was about looking inward for guidance, looking outward for inspiration, and creating art in an experimental, playful way without any expectations. We conjured up words, we tinkered with found materials (in my case some pigeon feathers), we collaged, we made prints of various types, we stencilled, we drew, we painted, and we did visioning exercises. I came away feeling refreshed, re-energized, and ready for action. I also have a few new ideas percolating for creative strategies to work into my life and art practice.


 
Today I'm back in my mainland studio with art projects on the go, paperwork to attend to, and this blog to write. Yesterday was my weekly life drawing session, and in a little while I will head out into the ravine for some time among the trees and a chance to soak up some fall sunshine. I'm also counting the days until my return to my island sanctuary.
 
Finding balance is a tricky thing - a continual creative work-in-progress in and of itself.


Saturday, 9 September 2017

Creativity + Girl Power = Limitless Possibilities

I’ve spoken before about how creativity takes many forms. In my world I tend to think primarily about the drawings and paintings I make, but obviously there are all kinds of creative folks making sculptures, or textiles, or music, or maybe they’re dancing, or writing, or engaging in any of a whole long list of artistic pursuits. There are also the kinds of creative activities that are worked into day-to-day life like gardening, or cooking, or carpentry – the list is truly endless when we think about how we use our minds to problem-solve as we make and do things.

Recently I’ve had the assistance of some very able-bodied women in what some would consider unconventional creative pursuits that have left me feeling empowered and impressed at what “girls” can do when we put our minds and bodies into a project.

Bring together three women on a sunny summer morning and there’s no telling what might happen! We can take a load of split rails and a pile of blocks, and create the most artfully made, well-engineered split rail fence imaginable! This one now adorns the front of my property on Mayne Island:


It brings me joy every time I look at it, and the locals seem to appreciate it too.

On another sunny summer weekend, bring together two women with a reasonable knowledge of power tools, a load of lumber, a bit of know-how, some determination, and an all-important helping of creativity, and the results can be nothing short of amazing!
 

 
The rickety, rotting front porch of my Mayne Island cottage, with a dilapidated set of stairs fit only for mountain goats, has been transformed into a sold, comfortable outdoor space.
 
Before...
 
Post demolition...

After...
 
It’s now a perfect spot for whiling away an evening watching the trees and gazing fondly at my little art studio across the way. And there's no longer any fear of sprains or broken bones while navigating the perfectly spaced, soundly made stairs.
 

This project also brings me immense joy and a massive sense of pride and accomplishment, not to mention gratitude to my skillful and enthusiastic friend who spearheaded the project.
I will never forget this summer, the projects we accomplished, and the lessons I learned working with my strong, skillful, creative female friends.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Where does the time go?

I recently realized the last time I blogged was about three months ago. When I first started blogging I thought I'd write every week. So much for that! Time has simply flown by so this post will be a quick catch-up of some of the the goings-on in this particular artist's life.

Travelling
I was fortunate enough to take a trip to the United Kingdom where a week of walking on the Hampshire coast was on the agenda. One marvellous part of it was the birds and animals encountered along the way.

I and my party walked through bird sanctuaries where shorebirds abound, such as this lapwing...


In the New Forest we were treated to encounters with curious pony foals...

 
And herds of inquisitive heifers...


There were families of swans...


And we were fortunate to glimpse a timid and rather moth-eaten looking deer...


And on a later day trip, there was the wonder of seeing feral parakeets dwelling in the big trees of urban London. They may be considered "invasive" but they are darned cute!


Long-distance walking in the UK is a stark contrast to hiking in the Grand Canyon where I spent a couple of weeks last year sleeping in a tent and lugging a hefty back pack full of supplies. In England each day ended with a comfy bed & breakfast and a meal at a local pub. It's all quite civilized by comparison with sleeping on the ground, eating dehydrated food, and drinking water filtered from frog ponds. However, each adventure has its own kind of charm.

Exhibitions
As many of my readers know, I now divide my time between British Columbia's Lower Mainland and Mayne Island, and as I establish my art practice on Mayne I've been starting to show my work there. I have participated in a couple of excellent group exhibitions in the historic Agricultural Hall and had a solo show in the Mayne Island Community Library, all courtesy of the Southern Gulf Islands Arts Council. I'm enjoying getting to know the art community on the island and finding my own niche. My art cards and prints can now be found on the island at EnVision Gallery.

Studio construction
My little studio on Mayne Island is almost finished! The furniture is in, the hanging system installed, and all that's left now is the installation of a problematic custom window. In the mean time, with sturdy plastic covering the empty window cavity, I've been able to make good use of the space and have found it to be every bit the perfect creative zone I had envisioned. Outside my studio door the birds call to one another in the tall trees and deer wander through the sunny meadow. There are few distractions apart from Lily requesting I throw her ball, and the lure of a walk along the nearby beach. I hope to have the studio open to the public when the finishing touches are complete so stay tuned!



New Artwork
I've been busy creating some new work and there's more in the planning stages. Among my most recent pieces is "Canadian Icon: Grey Jays" (coloured pencil), an appropriate subject in this year of Canada's 150th birthday celebration.


When I'm on Mayne Island nuthatches abound in the trees - often visiting my birdbath - so it's only fitting that one of the first pieces I produced in my new studio is this little one I call "The Acrobat" (also coloured pencil):


And I even broke out my soft pastels - a medium I haven't done much with in years, and created this piece featuring a flock of sleepy Oystercatchers resting on the rocks at Bennett Bay, a half-hour's walk from my studio. The loose quality of pastels was a welcome break from the fine detail of coloured pencil.


Fans of my silk paintings will be happy to know that I have some new silk pieces in the works, to be unveiled soon!

Upcoming
My next event is the annual Filberg Festival on Vancouver Island - always a favourite and one I recommend to anyone who is able to attend. I'm currently hunkered down in my mainland studio preparing, with the able assistance of Lily and her friend Roxy who is currently visiting. It's obviously exhausting work!


I'm not making any promises but hopefully it won't be quite as long before the next blog post. Till next time...