Saturday, 30 May 2020

Creativity in isolation

I've been hunkered down since authorities advised we do so in early March in response to the Covid 19 pandemic. Like many, I've spent more time than usual online reading this and that, and noticing that lots of artists appear to have been taking this time in stride, busily cranking out loads of new work. I have not.

The underlying uneasiness of the pandemic has, I suppose, limited my ability to concentrate fully on my work. It's not that I have stopped - just that it's been difficult to get my shoulder fully to the wheel and be significantly productive, particularly when upcoming exhibitions have been cancelled and life, as we had known it, has been so significantly altered. However, that's not to say I haven't been creative! 

I designed and built an artful vegetable garden in my sunny meadow, inventively re-purposing salvaged and found materials. The project was completed by the delivery of a load of good garden soil where seeds can germinate and roots can take hold, and the purchase of some deer mesh to keep the hungry hoofed marauders at bay.



Cobbling together the gate from bits and pieces of lumber from my scrap pile, some driftwood, and some hardware found in a coffee tin in my shed was a particularly gratifying task. Lily demonstrated the effectiveness of the gate even before the fence was built!




It was also intensely satisfying to dust off an old weather-vane which adorned my childhood home and subsequently traveled with me for the past 35-or-so years without finding a permanent location till now. 




The same can be said for an old wheel-hoe and a few other well-used tools that somehow managed not to be lost during life's travels and have now been brought out of retirement. 

And within a day of installing a funky bird-box on the fence, a house wren couple took up residence.




The garden is a delightful addition to my day. I visit each morning, sometimes with coffee in hand, to see how things are progressing, dropping by again later in the day to weed and water, and I'm already enjoying some fruits of all my labor in the form of lettuce, kale and herbs. It won't belong till there's more to harvest if the garden god(dess) is benevolent. I have hopes for strawberries and blueberries but I know I'll be in stiff competition with the birds. Maybe they'll be generous and leave a few for me.

So while art production is down, there's no shortage of creative energy and life has taken on a gentle rhythm. Veggie production is up and, like the plants in my garden, ideas for new art are taking hold, inspired by moments such as a golden crowned sparrow amid chartreuse leaf-sprouts earlier in the spring...



...or a well-camouflaged bank swallow choosing a nesting cavity...



...or visits from the resident barred owl who has taken to hanging about in the trees around my cottage and observing my activities with apparent interest.




The world may have slowed down for many and virtually ground to a halt for some but nature keeps going, and gardens keep growing, creativity keeps flowing, and my studio awaits.


Two new works - a great horned owl and a barred owl - on my studio window ledge.

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

A Bird on the Arm

During past winters I have often written about visits to places where hot, sunny climates provide welcome contrast to the chill, grey dampness of Canadian west coast winters. However this year my travels took me elsewhere: to England - a place where the winter weather mirrors that of home but where family connections provide me with a different kind of warmth.

During my stay I was treated to an other kind of heart-warming experience, one especially tailored to appeal to a bird-loving artist. I visited Icarus Falconry for some up-close-and-very-personal interactions with large birds of prey.

My visit started with a tour of the facility and an informative introduction to the various bird residents. The birds' handlers enthusiastically shared their wealth of knowledge. They are passionate about conservation and are experts in the care, training and handling of owls, falcons, hawks, eagles and vultures.

The first bird to join us in a nearby field was a little American Kestrel named Mojito.



She charmed us as she flitted back and forth between a distant perch and the gauntleted arm (or in one case, phone camera) of visitors. Still a juvenile bird and a novice at her work, she was definitely a crowd-pleaser. I expect she has a long career ahead as an ambassador for her kind and educator in the ways of raptors.





Another bird joined who us was this very athletic Harris' Hawk - a fierce and powerful species of Latin American origin who, like wolves, often hunt strategically in groups. 



It's worth noting that each bird wore a tiny GPS signalling device in case, for some unexpected reason, they desert their handler and make off into the nearby woods. While the obvious bond between handler and bird combined with the careful training each bird receives makes this an unlikely occurrence, this particular Hariss' Hawk is known for his liking for hunting the free-roaming pheasants in the area. 

To my delight, we also made the acquaintance of several species of owls including an African Spotted Owl, fondly known as Spot, who posed beautifully on a nearby fence before executing graceful flights across the field to land on outstretched arms.







Another resident was this huge Milky Eagle Owl - one of the world's largest owl species - named Orion. Also of African origin, his fuzzy eyelids and charming head-bobbing "dance" could deceive one into believing he's not actually a lethal predator.







Upon return to his enclosure after wowing us with his flying skills, he hopped after his human care-giver hollering plaintively for more attention. All of the birds at Icarus Falconry have been bred and raised in captivity and have imprinted indelibly on their humans who treat them as family members.

It was all very inspiring and every bird magnificent and compelling in its own way. However for me, the most enthralling moment was this:




Galileo, the great grey owl at Icarus Falconry

Having this magnificent Great Grey Owl land on my arm and perch quietly is an experience I'll never forget. A couple of years ago I commemorated another Great Grey Owl in this drawing "Out of the Shadows":


"Out from the Shadows"

As anyone familiar with my work knows, owls are a favourite subject including recent pieces featuring birds I've sighted closer to home:


"Hiding in Plain Sight"
Barred Owl, Mayne Island

"Short-eared Owl", Boundary Bay

My encounters at Icarus Falconry are likely destined to find their way into future art projects. In the mean time I will, as always, be alert to the presence of wild owls such as this juvenile Barred Owl who spent the afternoon hanging around my Mayne Island cottage one summer day not so long ago.


You can read more about my owl encounters in previous blog posts Year of the Owl and Day of the Owls.