Wednesday 27 March 2013

Songs of Spring

What a difference a few days can make! Just last week, as I shivered in my fleece sweater and listened to the thrumming of the furnace, I wondered if the chill winds and endless rains would ever leave us. And then suddenly spring arrived. It's like some cosmic switch got flipped and the seasons changed over night. As I write this I'm sitting outside in my shirt sleeves enjoying the sunshine. My old dog is warming her arthritic bones nearby, as is my crotchety senior cat. We're making the most of it and soaking up some much appreciated rays. My favourite season has arrived, filled with promise.
Steller's Jay
Spotted Towhee

The birds are rejoicing too! At this moment I can hear a sparrow's sweet call, the rough voice of a Steller's jay, the cawing of a crow, and what I think is the twittering of a flock of bush tits making their rounds, all of this over the steady drone of suburban lawn mowers, the voices of playing children, and the distant din of air planes and automobile traffic. During the past few days of warmer weather, the birds have emerged in abundance and are making their presence known.

Black-capped Chickadee

On any given morning on my dawdling walk to the local park with my slow-poke dog, I see juncos, chickadees, various types of sparrows, Steller's jays, flickers, towhees, the ever-present starlings, and on my neighbourhood's weekly garbage day there are always numerous crows and sea gulls scoping out any unsecured trash containers. One morning, high above me I made out a flock of swans heading north. I saw a pair of house wrens on a fence and a couple of finches flitted by. And on yet another morning recently, as I observed the antics of a pair of courting Steller's jays, a bald eagle soared overhead. But perhaps best of all, there are robins... lots and lots of robins!

American Robin
Over the past couple of years, I had become increasingly concerned that this iconic bird, once so common here, was in trouble. There was a handful of them around but their numbers seemed drastically reduced. One of my favourite childhood summer memories was waking up to the sound of chirping robins whose "cheer up, cheer up, cheerily cheer up" warble would be heard again later, with slight variation, as each day drew to a close. I missed that sound deeply. Perhaps difficult spring weather conditions here over the past couple of years affected their numbers or there was some problem in their wintering grounds. Happily this spring the robins have returned to my area in abundance. I am both delighted and relieved.

Each morning I'm once again waking up to the robins' lively song. I also hear the redwinged blackbirds in the nearby golf course and the gabbling of Canada geese. Last night, through the open window which ushered in fresh spring air, I made out the rapid-fire "hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo" of a pygmy owl - a male advertising his presence to any nearby females - above the trilling of frogs who were also busy vocalizing their own spring songs.

I continue to be astounded at the resilience of birds. Despite habitat loss, human encroachment, pollution and other modern-day problems, so many species are able to adapt. I regularly see nuthatches at my bird feeder, not to mention what I consider to be shy forest birds, the Pileated woodpeckers. To be able to gaze out of the window of my simple home in an unremarkable suburban neighbourhod and watch these adaptable wild creatures gives me joy and nourishes my artistic soul.

A nuthatch at my bird feeder.
Bookends! Two pilieated woodpeckers on the tree in
my front yard.

A trio of small drawings of nuthatches.

To top it off, what did I happen to see during a walk at my favourite park yesterday? My first trillium of the year - a sure sign that spring is well and truly here. Not only are the birds singing, my heart is too. And I feel some new artwork coming on!

My drawing of a much-loved spring flower - a trillium -
complete with a ladybug.


Written with condolences to the other parts of Canada where elusive spring is still keeping its distance.

Monday 11 March 2013

Ups and Downs

Yesterday was an up and down kind of day. I had an electrician inspect my studio to assess why I'm having problems with the electrical system, and he presented me with a substantial quote for the cost of the work needed to sort things out. That was the down part. But on the upside, I received a call from the gallery director at the Federation of Canadian Artists with excellent news: my application for "signature status" had been successful! For those of you unfamiliar with what this means, let me explain...

In a nutshell, the Federation of Canadian Artists (FCA) was founded in 1941 by a group of Canadian artists including one of the nation's iconic painters, Group of Seven member Lawren Harris. It operates as a non-profit society and its mission is to advance the knowledge and appreciation of art and culture to all Canadians. As with any organization, it's had its own share of ups and downs over the decades but is generally recognized, particularly in western Canada, for the high standard of quality it has established and maintains for participating member artists.

There are several levels of membership in the FCA. Supporting Membership is open to anyone who appreciates art. Artists wishing to advance themselves within the FCA, can apply for Active Membership which involves having their work reviewed and, if found acceptable, they can then enter various exhibitions at the FCA's Federation Gallery in Vancouver, as well as those organized by the society's regional Chapters (I'm a member of the Fraser Valley Chapter). Successful admission into at least eight such exhibitions over four years qualifies an artist to then apply for the next level - that of Associate Signature Member. I've been a member of the FCA for several years now, moving from Supporting to Active status, and have been working towards the point of applying for Associate Signature Membership. This year, having met the exhibition requirements, I decided to throw my hat into the ring.

A jury of accredited FCA artists convenes annually to review the year's batch of applications to see who has not only met the qualifying number of exhibitions, but whose work, in general, meets the organization's standards and criteria. It's a nail-biting process as only some of the applicants get through, and facing the possibility of rejection can be a real challenge for an artist's fragile ego. However, I was more than pleased to be among the handful selected for the Associate level from the 40+ artists who put their names and work forward this year. I'm now qualified to place the initials AFCA after my name (hence the reason it's known as signature status) to indicate this achievement.

There's much discussion among artists as to the value of this designation. My thought is that in a profession where there are few rules, having one's work reviewed by a jury of successful professional artists and found worthy of their acceptance has got to be a good thing. It certainly feels good!

The application process involves submitting 10 digital images and, from among those 10, delivering three original pieces to the gallery for the jury to see in person. For me, making that selection was no easy task and it involved considerable humming and hawwing, aided by helpful input from a couple of artist colleagues. Here, in no particular order, are the images I submitted:

Solitary Steller's Jay (coloured pencil)
Quiet Reflection: Sandhill Crane (hand-painted silk)
Killdeer (hand-painted silk)

Oystercatchers (hand-painted silk)

Forest Carpenter: Pileated Woodpecker (hand-painted silk)

Omens of Change: Raven Among Fall Aspens (hand-painted silk)

Wren and Salmonberry (coloured pencil)

Song of the Tropics: Mockingbird (coloured pencil)
Green on Green: Palm Tanager (coloured pencil)
Urban Flock: Mallards (hand-painted silk)

From this selection, three will be on display at the Federation Gallery as part of the "Success!" exhibition, March 12-24, 2013 (Killdeer, Song of the Tropics, and Urban Flock).

When I learned of my success, I emailed the artists who had offered helpful input about my submission to give them the news and to thank them. One of the congratulatory responses I received included these sage words: "...take time to bask in your success and then get back to the studio!" And that's where I am this morning. After all, I've got an electrician to pay.

Such are the ups and downs of life as an artist.

For more information about the Federation of Canadian Artists, visit