Sunday 17 June 2012

A Father's Day Gift

Over the past few weeks, I have had the infinite pleasure of creating this portrait of a strikingly handsome yellow Labrador retriever. I did not have the opportunity to meet this beautiful boy as he had passed away some time ago, but I was provided with a series of photos and a heart-felt description of him. He was a good dog, a kind and wise companion who travelled with his family to many interesting places. He enjoyed games, and grandchildren, and lying at his master's feet. He was an excellent listener. He is very sadly missed, particularly so by his master who was the family member with whom his bond was the tightest.

The timeline for completion of the portrait was very specific as it was to be a Father's Day gift. In an interesting coincidence, this dog had himself been a Father's Day gift many years earlier as a wee puppy. While I wouldn't normally advocate that pets be given as gifts (too many end up unwanted in the end), in this particular situation it was a match made in heaven. His master, who had never previously had a dog in his life, was smitten with the yellow pup and the pup loved him equally well. Throughout their many years together I understand they were an inseparable team. It was a great honour for me to have the responsibility of creating this portrait which holds much meaning for the dog's master and his family, and which will become a memorable and valued part of that family's history.

Working on this portrait caused me to think about Father's Day, something I haven't done in many years. You might say I haven't had good luck with fathers. I lost the first one in a tragic accident when I was just an infant, then the grandfather who raised me, who I called Dad, passed away before I reached adulthood. Thus for majority of my years I have been fatherless and subsequently Father's Day hasn't held a lot of significance. However, when I was working on the portrait of this sweet yellow dog, something about it twigged a memory. I went to the family photo stash, and found this:

This is Dad (my grandfather), gone now for many, many years. He was what you'd call in days-gone-by a "man's man". He was an outdoorsman, a farmer, a bit of an adventurer, and even a pioneer. It's from him I learned about the outdoors and animals, particularly horses, and with whom I spent countless hours helping mend fences, dig in the garden, harvest hay crops, even shingle a roof - all the many chores that our small farm required. And who is that with him in the photo? Why, it's a yellow dog - doubless a mutt but very reminiscent of a yellow lab! I remember this dog only vaguely. I don't even recall his name. He was a farm dog and, as was the way at that time, he lived as such: he came and went as he pleased and one day he simply didn't come home. I do remember phone calls being made to the local pound but the nameless yellow dog was never seen again. All these years later here he is in this old photo, sporting a big grin and accompanying Dad who was no doubt out checking the fences or the ditches or inspecting the livestock. Thankfully someone had the where-with-all to take a picture of that moment. It's clear there was a bond between this nameless dog and Dad, and as I was working on the portrait of the well-loved Labrador, my fond memories of Dad came flooding back to me.

So in the end, I too have received a Father's Day gift in the form of childhood memories of a man who helped mould me into the person I am today, memories that have been renewed thanks to a small, yellow puppy who joined another family on Father's Day so many years ago.

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Pardon me while I brag just a little...

This past Saturday I was having a horribly busy day on top of what had been an equally hectic week (or two, or three) leading up to it. What with meetings, project deadlines, another project undergoing complications, and a variety of obligations both personal and otherwise, I felt like I was being run positively ragged! Something had to give - it was not humanly possible to accomplish everything on my list that day.

To preserve my sanity, I decided that the opening of the "Just Birds" exhibition at the Newton Cultural Centre in Surrey, while something I was very much looking forward to attending, was the one thing I could forego that day. The exhibition runs till the end of the month so there would be other times to see it. I knew my silk painting Quiet Reflection: Sandhill Crane, pictured below, had been juried into the show, and a little bird (no pun intended) had informed me that it had won a prize. However, given my seemingly insurmountable task list and factoring the time it would take to drive to and from the gallery, I didn't attend the opening of "Just Birds". Instead I chose to hunker down in my studio.

I was immensely relieved to come to that decision. I made good headway on all the many things I had on my plate without the stress of feeling completely overwhelmed. It was glorious! I felt I had made a wonderful choice.

Then... late that evening... I received a congratulatory email from another artist: my painting had won Best of Show! Wow!! In order to save my sanity that day I had missed my moment in the spotlight. However, I'm beyond pleased to receive this honour and am looking forward to seeing the exhibition later in the month. I invite you to view "Just Birds" at the Newton Cultural Centre, 13530 - 72nd Avenue, Surrey. The gallery is open 10am-3:30pm daily and the show runs till June 30th.

And for those of you who would like to see a sandhill crane in person, visit the Reifel Bird Sanctuary in Ladner. I stopped there recently and was delighted to see two adults with two youngsters roaming the grounds near the entrance.

Wednesday 6 June 2012

Jays, Jays and more Jays!

Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of having six enthusiastic artists join me in my studio for a day of coloured pencil drawing. Our subject was this Steller's jay:

Each of them worked diligently throughout the day on their projects, assisted by my input and guidance:

After practicing a few techniques, they started with this outline:

... which gradually transformed into this:

... and eventually resulted in this:

We were visited part-way through the day by the family of Steller's jays that lives in my neighbourhood (you may remember my blog about them a few weeks back entitled Year of the Jay). Happily all five of them are still together - the babies have survived and are flourishing! That day, mom, dad and the three now almost-adult youngsters came squawking and flapping up to the bird feeder right outside my studio window. Unfortunately I didn't have the wherewithall to grab my camera, but it was a delightful moment for all of us to see these lively, colourful birds up close as we worked to capture their likeness on paper.

I'd like to thank all the workshop participants for joining me for a pleasurable day of learning and creating in my studio. I hope each of them went away with some new knowledge and skills, an appreciation for that day's colourful subject, and the inspiration to continue making bird-related art. (I'll be organizing some new workshops in the fall, so anyone interested in participating should keep an eye on my website, or get in touch with me to be placed on my email list for notification.)

I was pleased to see - and hear - the jay family in my yard again this morning, the youngsters still begging for tidbits from mom and dad and squabbling, as siblings often do, over treasures they happened to find themseves. I did manage to quickly snap one photo through my front patio door when one of the youngsters paused on the railing:

It's wonderful to live in a place where these wild creatures can be observed literally right ouside my door. Unlike some wildlife, they're not particularly exotic, or only to be found in remote wilderness, or considered unusual or uniqe by any stretch of the imagination. However, these common birds are captivating creatures who have managed to adapt to life in the suburbs. Their presence certainly enriches my life and they enhanced the experience of the participants in my workshop last weekend. My cat happens to think they're interesting too.