Wednesday 24 July 2013

My newest neighbours

For a few days I've been hearing a lot of unusual bird sounds in my back yard. The cats have been hearing them too, and even though they're confined to second floor, cat-proofed sundeck, they have been particularly interested in observing what's going on down below in the garden.

My shady, secluded back garden has a number of big, old rhododendrons and other shrubs of similar size, and at this time of year lots of foliage has grown up from below in the form of ferns, hostas and the like. It's a perfect habitat for birds who prefer the lower levels of the forest rather than being high in the canopy. This year, to my delight, I have discovered that a family of spotted towhees has taken up residence!

The first hint was the regular sound of this beautiful adult bird calling out to announce his presence every morning and evening.

I also observed him raiding my lone blueberry bush. It's a prolific one and most years it provides me with several pints of berries to enjoy with my breakfasts. This year, however, it seems I'm sharing them with my new back-yard "tenant", not that I mind.
Selecting just the right berry.
Looking at me as if to say, "You didn't want this one, did you?"
Then I began to hear steady peeping. At first I couldn't identify the source, despite lots of peering into the greenery. However, I could hear fluttering in the undergrowth and the adult birds were being very attentive so I suspected there was a family being looked after. Over the past couple of days I kept my eyes open and my camera handy, and I finally I manage to catch a few fleeting glimpses. Some not-very-good photos were the outcome:
In the cherry tree.

Under the shrubs perhaps wondering "Dare I venture out?"
Among the leaf litter below an old rhododendron.

And then this morning, as I was watering the garden with my camera in hand (trying not to water my camera in the process) I got this wonderful shot:
Baby towhee, full view!
Perhaps not the most beautiful bird in the world, but in my eyes, he or she is gorgeous!
I also captured this lovely interaction between parent and fledgling:
Watching and learning.

A trio of tiny towhee drawings.

Towhees are common birds here in southwestern British Columbia, but not everyone's familiar with them. Despite the fact that they're a good-sized bird, just a little smaller than a robin, and that they have striking markings with their black, white and rust coloured feathers and bright red eyes, their reclusive habits make them less likely for the casual observer to notice.  However, I often see them when I'm roaming in Campbell Valley Park so they have found their way into my artwork more than once:


A small drawing of a spotted towhee.
And I even use an image of a towhee for one of the coloured pencil workshops I teach. It's a perfect subject on which to learn about birds and their textures.
With this delightful little family living right on my doorstep, I'm sure there will be more towhee inspired artwork to come. In the meantime, the cats and I will look forward to being serenaded by the towhee's evening song tonight.

Tuesday 9 July 2013

A forest grows... in a chair?

For the past week or so I've been fully embroiled in an out-of-the-ordinary project. It's an unusual one but I've loved it! I have been painting an Adirondack-style lawn chair as a fundraiser for the Critter Care Wildlife Society.

My chair, and those painted by a couple of other local artists who also volunteered their time, will be sold at Critter Care's upcoming Open House, hopefully bringing in a bit of much-needed money to support the Society's charitable work of rehabilitating orphaned and injured wild mammals. The wildlife shelter is tucked away in Campbell Valley Park, and it is there that they take in everything from orphaned baby raccoons and skunks to bear cubs, fawns, bobcat kittens, otter pups and other wild youngsters. Injured/ill adult animals also find a haven at the shelter where they receive medical care, a quiet place to rest and recover, and ultimately a second chance at life. One of few organizations of this nature, animals are sometimes sent to them from the far reaches of the province. The goal is always to release the animals back into the wild once they're ready. It's valuable work and even though the Society operates on a shoe-string budget, the commitment of those involved is unwavering. Needless to say, the support of volunteers and public donations is crucial to the Society's existence.

My relationship with Critter Care goes back a few years to when they approached me about another volunteer project - to illustrate a children's book that would be sold as a fundraiser. Of course, given the work that the Society does, I was glad to lend a hand. The result was this little book entitled A Day by the River, recounting the exploits of Bradley Bear and his forest friends. It was a labour of love, and a successful one. I believe there are no copies remaining until the Society can find the funds to print more.

This year's project of painting a chair has proved to be another labour of love. I started with just an idea: a green forest with, of course, an animal or two. Another volunteer at Critter Care graciously gave the chair a coat of green primer paint to save me some time (thank you, whoever you are).

As my readers, friends and acquaintances know, one of my favourite local haunts is Campbell Valley Park - a green oasis where I find much inspiration and enjoyment. My favourite time of year is spring when the wildflowers bloom and the forest comes to life. Given the park is also home to Critter Care's wildlife shelter, it seemed only natural to me that my chair take on the theme of "Springtime in the Forest".

There are trilliums...

... and salmon berry blossoms...


... and bleeding hearts, and ferns.

A native Red Squirrel looks on from a vantage point on a tree trunk (not a European grey squirrel; they are invaders in our parks, neighbourhoods and wild spaces).

Of course, springtime in our local forest would not be complete without my favourite bird: a little Winter Wren singing his song.

And so from the chair grew a green forest carpeted by wildflowers and inhabited by cheeky creatures.



Soon another volunteer will pick up the chair and transport it back to the shelter, and over the weekend when the Society opens its doors to visitors, the chair will go to a new home - one that I hope will pay generously to have it adorn their patio (all proceeds will benefit the shelter).

As for me, I'm already thinking about ideas for next year's chair!


I'm pleased to report that the chair earned more than $2,000 at the silent auction held during Critter Care's annual Open House in July, all of which will benefit the animals in the society's care. To learn more about Critter Care Wildlife Society and the work they do, please visit

Wednesday 3 July 2013

A perfect day for an open house

A few days ago I opened the doors of my home studio to host an Artist's Open House. Despite some very early morning showers, the skies quickly cleared and I was able to use our shady front lawn, just outside the studio door, as an outdoor gallery where ferns, hostas and other vegetation could provide a lush, green backdrop.

Photo courtesy Lydia Steer

Photo courtesy Lydia Steer

Visitors began arriving promptly at the start time of 11 a.m. and the flow of guests continued steadily throughout the day. Some seating in the dappled shade of our honey locust tree made a great place to relax and enjoy the ambiance. If you're an old collie dog tired from the effort of greeting visitors, it provided a good spot for a nap.

Photo courtesy Lydia Steer
Indoors there was more to see in my mini-gallery ...
Photo courtesy Lydia Steer well as samples of work in process in my studio for those interested in learning more about it.

Photo courtesy Lydia Steer
Some new paintings made their public debut, including this silk painting entitled A Girl and Her Dog:

A number of drawings and paintings were purchased by visitors. Among them was this little coloured pencil drawing of a wren fledgling that flew away to a loving new home on Vancouver Island:

And this sketch of a wind-blown grey mare is now residing north of the Fraser River:

This cheerful pink silk scarf, decorated in a motif of pawprints, is now brightening someone's wardrobe:
Photo courtesy Lydia Steer

Copies of the children's book I recently illustrated proved to be popular, and now its important message about preserving the Earth's precious water supply will be told to children around the region.
Those who visited me that day will be interested to know that "Song of the Rainforest: Winter Wren" was the favourite chosen by most:
All in all, it was a perfect day but a tiring one - even for those of us who spent part of the day napping!
Photo courtesy Lydia Steer
I'd like to offer warm thanks to everyone who visited, and particularly those who lent a hand to help make the event a success. I look forward to doing it again next year!
PS: The prize winner of the day will be announced in my next e-newsletter.