Wednesday 23 May 2012

Road Trip!

This past weekend I travelled to Vancouver Island to participate in "Art and Blooms" at the Kitty Coleman Woodland Gardens, on the north side of the town of Courtenay. The journey across the water by ferry then north by road up the coast of the Island is always one I enjoy - the scenery is spectacular, the pace of life is slower, and there are always wonderful opportunities to view local wildlife. This trip was no exception!

As I drove along past the village of Union Bay, the car in front of me suddenly swerved into a parking lot beside a public pier. The reason? A large colony of sea lions was sunbathing on the floats just a few yards off shore.

Dozens of sea lions resting, squabbling and making lots of noise!

Taking full advantage of the sunshine.

Sleeping nose to nose.

Their barking was so loud I could hardly hear myself think! I observed and photographed them while other cars swerved into the parking lot and viewers came and went. I'm told the sea lions can always be found at this location in the spring when the herring run is under way. It was an interesting coincidence to see them when only a short while earlier, I had dropped off this particular painting at Monk Art Gallery in the town of Parksville:

This silk painting of a bull sea lion resulted from observing a colony
in the Broken Island group, off the west coast of Vancouver Island.

There were other creatures capitalizing on the abundance of herring, most notably these mergansers who I saw fishing one evening near the home where I was staying for the weekend, as well as an otter. Unfortunately, they were all just a bit too far off shore and the light too dim for my camera to capture good photos.

Greedy mergansers gobbling fish.

An otter making a brief appearance.

And this blue heron, a true icon of the west coast, perched gracefully in a tree with the mountains of the mainland providing a gorgeous backdrop.

Over the weekend, I spoke with representatives of the Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society, a group which specializes in rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing injured wild birds and animals. They are seeking funding for a study of the great blue herons, a species now considered "at risk" due to human encroachment on their habitat, and have applied for a $25,000 grant from Shell Canada. The success of their application is dependent on the number of votes they receive online between now and the end of October. You can support this group in their efforts by voting for them. Visit their website at for details.

My silk painting of a blue heron fishing off shore, observed on Vancouver Island last year.

Another notable sighting over the weekend were these unusual saddleback cattle with their unique white middles (a quick Google search informed me that they're a breed called Belted Galloways). They're a heritage breed that I previously have observed only while travelling in England. Grazing contentedly with their farmer and flowering fruit trees in the background, they were decidedly picturesque!

Belted Galloway saddlback cattle at a farm in the Comox Valley.

Then there was the art show itself, located a beautiful garden setting with lush vegitation and an abundance of rhododendrons in full flower. With a welcoming and well-organized host, a congenial group of talented artists and artisans, and plenty of public interest, the event got off to an auspicious beginning under sunny skies. Unfortunately Mother Nature did not continue to cooperate and two subsequent rainy days made for less-than-ideal conditions (I won't bore you with photos of that).

My "mobile gallery" display at Art & Blooms.

And now, after an uneventful journey home, I'm back in my studio reflecting on the weekend and on the pile of projects that awaited my return. Stay tuned for another road trip next month!

Thursday 10 May 2012

Year of the Jay

I'm having a difficult time concentrating on getting much done in my studio this morning. Why? Because in the rhododendron bush right outside my studio window, is this:

... and this:

and this: 

Who could possibly get any work done with a trio of Steller's jay fledgelings just inches from their window?

I had been suspecting for some time that a pair of Steller's jays were nesting in our shrubbery. As visitors to my studio will know, the adults had been regularly visiting my feeding station, which is positioned just outside another of my studio windows, and for several weeks they have been sounding shrill alarms whenever a neighbourhod cat or crow ventured near. Plus I overheard them cooing and murmering to one another, whispering sweet-nothings in the privacy of our hedge. But until these little guys left the nest two days ago, I wasn't certain. The jay couple was being very careful to keep the location of their nest under wraps and I still don't know quite where it is. Once the babies were mobile, the parents ushered them around the back yard till they ended up where they are now, snuggled safely among the branches and foliage of an overgrown 30+-year-old rhododendron.

Vigilant parent

As an artist, I find jays fascinating. They're brash, in-your-face birds who rule their territories, proclaiming the presence of predators, hogging feeding stations, and generally making sure they're never ignored. They can be pretty overbearing. However, in the case of Stellar's jays, their gorgeous blue plumage makes me forgive all their other less-than-perfect qualities.
Steller's Jay (Coloured pencil drawing)
Last week I received the exiting news that my most recent drawing of a Steller's jay, (pictured below) was accepted into a national exhibition hosted by the Coloured Pencil Society of Canada. It, along with another my drawings (Wren and Salmonberry), will be travelling to Ottawa in July and then to Montreal in August. I'm delighted to have had two pieces juried into this exhbition of works from across the country.
Solitary Steller's Jay: Early Spring (Coloured pencil drawing)

Given these brash blue birds are figuring prominently in my life this year, I am designing a new coloured pencil workshop that focuses on birds and it seems only natural that I use a Steller's jay as the primary subject. The workshop taking place in June is already full but I'll be taking names for the next one.

As for the three wee birdies outside my studio window, I am hopeful for their survival. The parents are vigilant, they're well hidden, and my collie Riley and I are helping out by making regular patrols to keep marauding neighbourhood cats at bay (cats allowed to roam free take a huge toll on the songbird population, just one of the reasons I'm an advocate for keeping cats indoors). The little guys get stronger by the hour as their parents regularly bring them bits of food.

In honour of this trio of little birds and the influence their species has had on my art practice, I'm officially proclaiming 2012 as my own personal Year of the Jay. I am already planning a new silk painting.