Sunday, 8 July 2018

A Day at the Dog Show

Written by Lily the cocker spaniel

It started out as an ordinary day here on Mayne Island - one of those summer days when I get up, go outside to play ball, then I have breakfast, and a nap, and then usually I play more ball, and more ball, and more ball - just about as much ball as possible, all day long. 



But on this day things were different. After breakfast I had to have.... a BATH! And I hadn't even rolled on any stinky dead crabs at the beach so I couldn't figure out what was going on.



After the horrible bath, instead of going outside to play ball I had to stay in the house because Deb said, "You have to stay clean for the Dog Show". I was pretty sad about that.



I didn't know what a Dog Show was. However, I figured it might be fun.

And it was! We went down to the park and hung out in the sunshine and visited with lots of other people and their dogs... big dogs, small dogs, older dogs and puppies. I got lots of cuddles and pats from people who thought I was cute (without sounding like I'm bragging, that actually that happens to me a lot but even more on this day). Then we lined up for the Dog Show.

First we entered "Obedience". I was supposed to sit, stay, and then run to Deb when she called me. I sat really nicely, and I stayed... 



... but when Deb walked away I got distracted by some people sitting behind me who wanted to pat me. They gave me some nice tummy-rubs! Then when Deb called me I ran towards her lickety-split, but there were more people behind her who wanted to pat me so I ran right past her for more tummy-rubs! Turns out the judges thought the winning dog should run to their person, not to other nice people, so I didn't get a trophy.

We also entered "Dogs and Owners Who Look Alike". Deb said it was A Long Shot. It turns out that another dog got that trophy too so I guess that's what A Long Shot means.

But then we entered my favourite category: "Jumping". Was that ever fun! There were a bunch of little dogs around my size.



We all took turns jumping over a little fence. At first it was really easy...



Then the fence got higher....



... and higher...



.... and even higher..



...and then really high ...



...and then even higher!



 And guess what? I jumped higher than any other little dog and I got a trophy!



I am now officially Mayne Island's "Best Small Jumper"! Am I ever proud. I can't wait for next year even though it means I'll have to have another horrible bath. I guess I'll probably end up having a few more baths before then anyway, especially if I find stinky dead crabs on the beach.

I was pretty tired after the Dog Show but that's OK, at least I got to go back home and play ball.



__________________________________

Some photos courtesy of Stephen Cropper and Toby Snelgrove. More pictures of the show are available online at Toby Snelgrove Photography

Sunday, 27 May 2018

The Art of Collecting

Collectors and their collections come in many forms. 

Artists are typically overjoyed when their work captures the attention of someone who likes it enough to buy it. We're even more excited when that person comes back for more and becomes what's known as a Collector. Some Collectors have homes full of original art, others may 
have only a couple of precious pieces, but whichever the case their enthusiasm and appreciation for our work is one of the driving forces that keep us busy in our studios.

Artists are often Collectors themselves. It's an occupational hazard. Our appreciation for and ongoing exposure to the work of other artists makes us prime candidates for stretching our limited budgets so we can surround ourselves with works of art that bring us joy and satisfaction.


There's also another type of collecting that we artists are also susceptible to, and that's the impulse to acquire objects that spark our creativity. Anyone who's been around me for long knows I have a particular weakness for feathers, and also for shells, rocks and, most recently, bits of wood. In my living spaces and studios there are pots and piles of feathers, assortments of shells from sea-side rambles, and handfuls of pebbles deemed special enough to be slipped into a pocket or backpack.





I have created my own beach inside my urban townhouse.




Shells and pebbles fill bowls and adorn shelves and window ledges.




Feather "bouquets" can be found in both my city and island studios.




And then there are the sticks. My selections are often bits of driftwood but I also particularly like arbutus branches.


I think I have developed this affinity for wood from my four-legged companion Lily who rarely comes home from a walk without bringing a stick. 


Some are big...



... and some are small...


...but just about every day a stick finds its way home with us. There's a growing pile of her sticks at the end of my Mayne Island driveway, most of which were acquired during our evening rambles to the nearby beach. I sometimes find one of her sticks carefully tucked away in a cranny in back seat of my car. I have observed her burying the most special of her sticks in carefully chosen locations around the yard. Lily, who comes from a line of dogs bred to retrieve and carry, is a dedicated Collector.


The act of collecting is integral to the life of an artist given we produce artwork for our clients to collect and we collect items for our own inspiration. 


And sometimes we simply hang out with others for whom collecting is in their DNA.





Friday, 23 March 2018

Success!

A few days ago the equinox marked the onset of spring - a time when the earth comes into bloom, birds announce the arrival of dawn, and frogs awaken from hibernation and commence their evening chorus. Spring is also the time when the Federation of Canadian Artists (FCA) convenes a jury of its Senior members to review the portfolios of artists applying for advancement within the organization. This year I was one of those applicants.

For those not familiar with the FCA, it's a national organization dating back more than 75 years. It counts Lawren Harris and AY Jackson among its founders, and Emily Carr as an early member. Its mission is "to advance the knowledge and appreciation of art and culture to all Canadians, offering education, exhibition and communication in the Visual Arts, and to support and promote emerging to professional member artists". There are three levels of FCA membership, all of which require artists to complete a jurying process to determine eligibility. It starts with "Active" status that offers the opportunity submit work for FCA exhibitions. Active members who are accepted into enough exhibitions over a defined time frame can then apply for Signature status, either as an "Associate" or "Senior". (Complete information about the FCA can be found at www.artists.ca.)

Applying for Signature status is a nerve-wracking process that involves submitting a selection of carefully chosen artwork for review by the jury. As most artists know, jurying of any kind generates a significant level of anxiety as we expose ourselves and our work to critical review. When we're successful, our angst is transformed into euphoria. The standards for the "Associate" level are high, and for "Senior" they're even higher, so when I received the call to tell me I had succeeded in my bid for Senior status I felt absolutely elated.

In celebration of my success, I'd like to share my portfolio. All 10 of these coloured pencil drawings were submitted on line as digital images, and three of them (Wild Muscovy, Master Builders and Butterflies & Goosebumps) subsequently delivered to the gallery for "live" viewing and inclusion in the Success! show in the gallery once jurying is complete.


Wild Muscovy

Master Builders (Bushtits)

Butterflies & Goosebumps
(Chinese Geese & Cabbage Moths)
  
Out from the Shadows
(Great Grey Owl)

Canadian Icon (Grey Jays)

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Scrub Jay

Summer's End (Bushtit)
Stickleback's Misfortune
(Great Blue Heron)

I can now proudly use the initials SFCA after my name and count myself among the artists who have worked to make the Federation of Canadian Artists recognized for the standards it maintains for its members and for its ongoing commitment to the Visual Arts. 




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”.