Wednesday 28 August 2013

Dog days of summer

It's been a long, mostly dry, warmer than usual summer here in southwestern British Columbia. For weeks, long stretches of lovely sunny days have been interspersed with the occasionally cloudy day and brief shower. As August draws to a close and we enter the last dog days of summer, the weather has begin to shift and oh-so subtle hints of fall are now in the air.

My old collie Riley has been enjoying many summer afternoons on the front lawn in the shade of my favourite tree: a honey locust that was planted by my mom nearly 30 years ago. Riley has become such a regular feature in the front yard that I've begun referring to her as my living lawn ornament.

Who are you calling an ornament? That deserves a cookie!

It's the perfect place for an old dog. It's breezy and cool. A great spot for napping...

...or for observing the goings on in the neighbourhood...

...or for doing more napping...

Throughout her life, Riley has always enjoyed spending time on her own outdoors most days, weather permitting. Now that she's a very senior dog, I think the front lawn is a better spot than our fenced and secluded back yard where I can't easily keep an eye on her. The locust tree where she likes to hang out is just outside my studio window so I'm able to watch over her, take her frequent snacks, refill her water bowl as needed, and chastise her if she gets too excited when the mail is delivered (for such a mellow dog with failing vision and hearing, there's something about the mail carrier that never fails to get her worked up).

The bird feeders are out there too, so the steady sound of squabbling chickadees and the occasional peeping nuthatch provides background music, interspersed with raucous squawks of visiting Steller's jays demanding peanuts and twittering flocks of tiny bush tits that swoop in for a snack a couple of times a day.

A red-breasted nuthatch at my bird feeder.

A coloured pencil portrait I created of my
neighbour's black lab some years ago.
Another nice thing is that Riley's neighbourhood dog friends sometimes stop to visit when they're out for their walks. There's the old black lab who's Riley's age and just about as lively (not). At one time Riley didn't much care for this dog but as they've both grown older Riley has warmed up to her.

Then there are the two spaniel boys who just moved in next door. They're a much more energetic pair who are adapting well to their new neighbourhood and have completely charmed Riley. No doubt they reminder her of her cocker spaniel friend Roxy.

Occasionally human passers-by stop to sit on the bench to pass the time of day with Riley. Our long-time nonagenarian neighbour (96 years young) often comes to visit. Riley was once good friends with his German shepherd who passed on a few years ago.

All in all, it's a pleasant way to spend summer afternoons if you're an old dog with a thick double-coat more suited to ancestral Scottish Highlands than BC's Lower Mainland. And I love seeing her there outside my window, sometimes observing her feet twitch as she dreams of the squirrels she used to chase with such enthusiasm, or of racing with her kin at a past collie meet-up.

Riley's the tricoloured collie bounding along near the back of the pack.

I introduced Riley to my blog readers just about a year ago in a post entitled The Ageing Princess. At that time I was noticing significant signs of age in my dear old dog. A year later she's still a happy girl but the physical deterioration has been steady. For the past six months I've had to carry her up the flight of stairs to the living area of my two-storey house several times each day (no easy feat, given her 50+ pounds). She can still mange to get down the stairs but only thanks to a harness that allows me to support her weight as I walk beside her. The harness also allows me to help her on other occasions when her old legs just don't work the way they should. We still go on very occasional, very slow strolls in Campbell Valley Park, and every day without fail we take a couple of meandering walks around our neighbourhood together. I know this is likely our last summer together and I'm treasuring every moment.

My coloured pencil portrait of Riley.
But for now, she really does make a lovely lawn ornament, doesn't she?


Friday 9 August 2013

Have art, will travel

A few days ago I arrived home from Vancouver Island where I was presenting my work at the Filberg Festival - an annual outdoor event in scenic Comox, BC. It features a range of high-calibre artists and artisans, lively music, cheerful crowds, and is usually blessed with balmy long-weekend weather. This year was no exception.

Regular readers of my blog may remember my description of the chaos in my studio while preparing for last year's Filberg Festival in "Creativity Equals Chaos" (July 2012). This year I thought I'd change focus and talk about what it takes to physically get from Point A (my studio) to Point B (the festival site).

Packing for an outdoor festival the size of Filberg is always daunting. Not only must I consider the work I'll be presenting - the paintings, drawings, prints, cards, and other items - and ensure I have the right amount of stock on hand, I must also factor in the canopy tent, display panels, lighting, and all the odds and ends that comprise my mobile gallery setup. I have to get it right because a two-hour ferry ride and a couple of hours of driving separate my studio from the festival site, and that means there's no way to nip back home for any forgotten items. Not only that, but I must do this in a state of semi-exhaustion after long days of festival preparation. However, I've become a veteran of this type of work and have systems and checklists in place to help ensure nothing crucial is left behind. 

Before packing the car, the stuff to be transported was collected in various boxes and containers.
Calendars and other items packed for transport.
Precious paintings shrouded in bubble wrap and
carefully placed into sturdy boxes.
Display panels, containers of this-and-that,
and various other crucial items.

Somehow it all gets crammed into my car - an amazing Honda Element which, with the rear seats removed, turns into a spacious transport van. It also has a handy roof-top rack that accommodates the canopy tent, card rack, and other bulky items.

Waiting at the ferry terminal

Even so, once everything is packed there isn't an inch to spare.

The popularity of these versatile cars among the artist/artisan community was obvious when I parked on site at the festival next to not one, but three other Honda Elements.

After being escorted to my assigned spot by one of the army of festival crew members (the majority of which are volunteers) who work tirelessly to ensure the event runs like a well-oiled machine, it wasn't long before the jumble of stuff crammed into my car was magically transformed into an elegant, outdoor mini-gallery. This is thanks in no small part to my "road crew" that consisted of my husband and also my sister and brother-in-law who happen to live not far from the festival site. As the saying goes, "many hands make light work", and when it comes to erecting canopy tents, assembling display panels, setting up tables, etc., this is particularly true and I'm grateful for their assistance and support.

Over the four days of the festival, my art was well received and a number of paintings and drawings found new homes. Among them was my award-winning silk painting "Urban Flock: Mallards":

And this coloured pencil drawing of a nesting barn swallow:

Four glorious summer days later - days packed with conversations about art, and animals, and all kinds of other topics, and enhanced by the live music drifting from the nearby stage - it was all over and it was time to pack again for the return journey home. The festival site, with its temporary community of artist, artisans, organizers and volunteers dissolved in merely a couple of hours. Goodbyes were said, hugs were shared, and pledges to "see you next year" were issued. Various vehicles, from rental vans, to veteran Volkswagen campers, to small hatchbacks and, of course, ever-popular Honda Elements were re-loaded and dispersed - some to locations just down the road while others faced lengthy journeys home to other provinces.
Happily my own journey home involved lighter load and more space in the car, not to mention a lovely coastal drive and a scenic ferry ride. However back at the studio the unpacking process has evolved slowly and I find, days later, I still have boxes to sort. The busy weeks of preparation, the packing and travel, the long days at the festival, and then the re-packing and return trip have taken their toll and I'm tired! I've been taking a bit of time to rest and recuperate, and then I'll regroup for the next summer festival: Arts Alive - a lively one-day street festival that takes place a few days from now, just down the road in my home community.
Every festival, large or small, near or far, involves sorting, packing, transporting, set-up and, at the end of a hopefully sunny (and profitable) day or weekend, the same process in reverse. It's tiring work but it's gratifying. It offers opportunities to share my art and the stories behind it, and to personally connect one-on-one with those who appreciate it. It forms an important part of my life as an artist - a life I wouldn't trade for any other.