Friday 5 December 2014

And so... they grow!

It's been several months since two furry newbies joined my family of four-legged companions: kitten Hugo in May (read his introduction in "In with the New") followed by puppy Lily in June (read about her in "The Great Distraction"). It's high time, I think, for a status report!

Lily and Hugo, July 2014

Let's start with Hugo. When I adopted him from the Katie's Place Animal Shelter, I had a list of criteria I was hoping to meet: a male kitten, long-haired and ginger coloured, with an outgoing personality. After all, this would one day be the successor to senior feline Rupert, of similar characteristics and possibly the most outgoing cat in the world (those who know him will back me up on this). So far Hugo has not disappointed. He is, as one friend described, a total nut. He is fun and he is funny. Like any kitten, "playful" is his middle name. He has developed a fixation for water and I have had to learn to leave no drink unguarded, even for a moment, unless I wish to have it investigated by an inquisitive paw and likely knocked over. I have also come to expect the pitter-patter of kitten feet whenever I turn a faucet as Hugo rushes to observe the mystery of running water. He also absolutely adores vanilla ice cream. You can try to hide quietly with your bowl but he will find you and demand his share.

Hugo the clown
Rupert sleeping, or at least attempting to,
with snuggling Hugo.

Rupert is training Hugo well. He and Hugo can often be found together, big and not-so-little, old and young orange cats together with very similar behaviours. Rupert has taken him under his wing, as he has done with other kittens in his long life, and shown him the ropes, putting up with Hugo's adoring attention when it's easy to see that sometimes he'd rather not. As for my other adult cat Archie, it took a while but he and Hugo have become buddies, enjoying some excellent chasing games together. Hugo's a delightful little guy and a joy to have around the house, never failing to make me laugh.
And then there is Lily, the now seven-month-old American cocker spaniel pup, also referred to at times as the Cocker Monster.
How could you even think of calling me a monster when I'm this cute?

She has grown from the darling 6-pound baby who produced what seemed like an ocean of pee (and oh how I struggled in those early days to perfect the timing of potty trips outdoors) to an exuberant 18-pound teenager for whom there is no greater pleasure on the planet than to fetch a tennis ball. Tennis balls are now the centre of her universe. I might have known this would be the case when, at just 10 weeks of age with wobbly puppy legs she started bringing me small objects and retrieving them when I tossed them a few feet away. The retrieving bloodline for which these dogs were bred runs strong in her veins.

Lily at 5 months old enjoying a soggy romp by a river,
doing what comes naturally to her and retrieving a stick.

She's really a charming pup who is becoming increasingly tuned in to how the household operates. I see the makings of a great dog in her and expect she'll become an exceptional companion, hopefully for many years to come. The adult cats have taken her presence in stride, ignoring her as much as possible, avoiding her when her exuberance gets out of control, and of course Rupert has taken it upon himself to put her in her place when she oversteps the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. And as has been the way with all the young animals who came before, Lily has gravitated to Rupert, seeking his company for comfort and quiet companionship.
Lily and long-suffering Rupert sharing the warmth of the fireplace.

Growing up together, Lily and Hugo have developed an interesting relationship. I believe neither realizes they are of different species. I often find Hugo carrying a ball around in his mouth (not a tennis ball but a smaller one) and have, on occasion, come across Lily standing on the living room coffee table. They certainly don't realize that cats and dogs are supposed to have an adversarial relationship. They sometimes play very active, physical games but when things get out of hand, Hugo gives the much larger and stronger Lily a very clear signal he's had enough, bringing his claws out if need be. When he does, Lily will squeal, back off, give him a reproachful look, and then a little later they'll be rough-housing again. I have seen Lily dragging a limp Hugo across the floor by his ear or tail, and he appears content to go along with it, able to put a stop to the nonsense if he chose to. They seem to have figured things out in a way that's a bit of a mystery to me but which works for them. On rare occasions they sleep together, but their naps never last long, progressing from sleepy snuggles to rough-and-tumble tussling in short order. It's made for fine entertainment and endless distractions.

Lily and Hugo caught in the act of... something! (November 2014)
I'm curious to see how their relationship will develop as they grow and mature. I'm also curious to see where they'll figure in my art. Right now they are occasional companions in my studio but both have yet to learn the art of being unobtrusive. Lily's penchant for nibbling on art books or supplies and Hugo's interest in clambering just about everywhere makes it challenging for me to have them spend too much time in there while I'm working - it's just too distracting - but they are learning. After all, at only seven and eight months of age they've got a long way to go. It's a journey I'm looking forward to sharing with them.

Tuesday 21 October 2014

A little piece of paradise

In waters of the Straight of Georgia between Vancouver Island and the mainland of southwestern British Columbia are a cluster of islands known as the Southern Gulf Islands. They're quiet, rural places where neighbours are often of the four-legged variety.
These serene islands are havens for creative types of all kinds - artists, writers, musicians - as well as for those who simply wish to get away from the hustle and bustle of more urban lifestyles. Handfuls of resourceful full-timers live year-round, taking on the many challenges of island life, while others maintain second homes on these idyllic jewels in the sea, places they can go to leave their busy every-day lives behind without permanently having an ocean and a ferry ride between them and their families and jobs and other significant ties, not to mention the services and conveniences of mainland life.

Tucked away in a corner of one of these islands, at the end of a hidden driveway that winds among leafy arbutus and towering evergreens is a dilapidated little yellow cottage.

It's not much of a place, a real fixer-upper - what's known euphemistically as a "handyman special". But as of just a couple of weeks ago, this ramshackle cottage became my own little Gulf Island retreat - dodgy well water, funky septic system, and all, with a rickety set of front steps, a roof that's best not looked at too closely, and a few other deficiencies that will need to be seen to in the coming months. This rustic abode might not be everyone's idea of paradise, but that's what it is to me. It's my own piece of a part of the world that has always attracted me like a moth to a flame: a little Gulf Island retreat to call my own. For the past decade or so my husband and I had dreamed of this, and now it's finally come to fruition.

While the cottage itself isn't much, it's on a well-treed half acre that backs onto a large tract of undeveloped forest.

Best of all, it's only a stone's throw from this:

An easy stroll with a cup of coffee, I've already picked out the rock where I'll sit, and sip, enjoy the morning sunshine, and gaze at the ocean while Lily (who is now, by the way, a rambunctious six-month-old pup and no longer a baby) plays on the beach. I think I might need a kayak.

And what I'm most excited about is the art I'll make based on my new part-time life as a Gulf Islander. A chunk of the island is devoted to the Gulf Islands National Marine Park, and another part of its coastline faces Active Pass which is considered to be migratory bird habitat of international significance. There are seal colonies, forested hillsides, shorebird nesting areas, and whenever I've been there I've heard a myriad of songbirds twittering, ravens muttering in the treetops, and watched pileated woodpeckers flapping and tapping amongst the evergreens. There are a few cozy farms where cattle, horses and sheep graze comfortably, and who knows what else? I can't wait to discover it all.

But for now our visits to our new "estate" involve winterizing activities so the sound of hammers drowns out the peeping of the nuthatches, and the baaa-ing of the sheep over the fence is hard to hear above the shrill whine of the circular saw, and there's only time for a quick dash down to the beach to reassure ourselves it's there and it's why we're doing what we're doing.

And I've yet to enjoy sipping that morning coffee on the beach, but it will come. It is said the best things are worth waiting for.

Monday 22 September 2014

A walk in the wacky woods

Art comes in many forms. While I express my own vision in my two-dimensional depictions of animals and birds, and I have laboured over skills that have taken a chunk of my lifetime to master, I have an appreciation for creativity in all its variety and splendor. On a recent trip to Vancouver Island, I had an opportunity to experience creativity at its unrefined best. I took a walk in the Wacky Woods.

I doubt you'd find the Wacky Woods without knowing a local. They're located in the Fanny Bay area and are a favourite haunt of my sister and her family who live nearby. We parked on a dead-end road, and set off down a well groomed trail through marsh and into woodlands until, amidst the trees, we saw a sign indicating a left turn. I didn't know quite what to expect but all was soon revealed.

We encountered a tree that had a wooden "book" tucked into a crevasse. It turned out to be the first of many such "books", each of which opened to a single page with a quotation. The theme of these quotations soon revealed the left-leaning tendencies of the person who selected them. But these were just one aspect of what turned out to be an entire forest-turned-art-gallery.

Moving from one "room" to anther, we encountered installations too numerous to count, many of them featuring faucets or electrical switches, or machinery, or simply bits of this and that combined imaginatively and inviting the viewer's interpretation. Many had a environmental/resource-based theme. Some were political. Some were simply downright funny.


We sauntered, and read, and observed, and laughed, and eventually came to a clearing where the person responsible for all this wackiness had once lived. Note the silhouette of the fish among the tree branches.

George Sawchuk began creating this living work of art on his property, commencing in the mid 1970s. It evolved over the balance of his life until he passed away a few years ago. During his life, he welcomed visitors to his property and regaled them with stories. Without him, his legacy of art lives on, maintained now by his family.

Surrounding the house were more installations.

Some continued the wacky theme...

...while others bore more practical messages.

"Please Do Not Sit On Bike"

Back in the woods we came across a cemetery for pets ...

... and apparently for beloved articles of clothing.

There were more fascinating installations. In fact, I doubt that we saw them all even in the considerable time we spent wandering the maze of trails, musing, discussing, and chuckling. It was a wonderful experience.

This artist took materials he had at hand and simply placed them into the space he had available. The forest had not only provided the setting for the art, it was actively engaged in the art-making process, such as this charming caterpillar adorning a hose nozzle sprouting from a tree trunk whose bark, over time had embraced the nozzle's base.

And with the passage of seasons and years, George's installations have altered with the growth and decay that are the continual evolution of the forest, as is the case with all living things.

"Build it and they will come", and so he did, and so they still do. We weren't the only people wandering in the Wacky Woods that morning and I'm sure there are always a handful meandering there, puzzling over George's messages and vision, appreciating his efforts, and laughing at the oddness of it all.

To read more about George Sawchuk simply Google his name and you'll find out he was not some back-woods eccentric. He tapped into his creativity late in life but was written up in Canadian Art magazine and accumulated a significant exhibition history. However, without knowing anything about him, which I didn't when I visited the Wacky Woods, I found his work to be interesting and inspiring - a true testament to the creative spirit that lives within us all. If you have a chance to take your own walk in the Wacky Woods, I'm sure you won't regret it.

Also worth noting, a trip to the Wacky Woods is a pet and child friendly outing which was much enjoyed by my puppy Lily and her human "cousins".

Thank you George, for your creative legacy. I wish I'd had the opportunity to meet you.

NOTE: Sadly, the Wacky Woods no longer exist. The property was sold and now George's vision lives on only in memory and by those who documented it through words and photos.

Tuesday 19 August 2014

This and that

Finally... I have some time to myself. I'm betwixt and between what just a few days ago seemed like an unending list of exhibition deadlines and summer art festival dates. Now, with a deadline-and-appointment-less day at my disposal, I thought I'd take a few minutes to write a brief re-cap.

The avalanche of activity got rolling when I hosted an Artist's Open House at my studio last month. It turned out to be a quiet-ish day, but I nonetheless welcomed a steady trickle of visitors to view a selection of artwork and enjoy refreshments on the lawn. Shockingly (to me, anyway) my coloured pencil drawing Wild Muscovy was among the artworks that found new homes that day. I was convinced he'd be with me forever - after all, this bird's face is one that takes some getting used to - but a visitor to my studio fell head over heels in love with him and soon he will be gracing the walls of her new home. (I wrote about this drawing in a previous blog post, Tale of an ugly duck.)

"Wild Muscovy" coloured pencil drawing

A few days later I attended the opening of Oil and Water, an exhibition of artwork from around the province, hosted by the South Delta Artist's Guild at their Gallery 1710 in Tsawwassen. I knew my silk painting, The Transients: Snow Geese, had received an award but I was honoured to learn it placed in the top three, earning the Envision Financial Master Artist's Award. Wow!

"The Transients: Snow Geese" silk painting

Bright and early the next morning I was at West Vancouver's Ambleside Park setting up my booth at the Harmony Arts Festival's Art Market. It was a lovely event that spanned two weekends in a gorgeous waterfront setting.

My tent and art display at the Harmony Arts Festival

The summer weather was almost too cooperative, at times reaching temperatures that challenged even heat lovers like myself, but it didn't deter festival-goers. Among the artworks that found new homes during the festival was one of my new silk paintings, Lone Plover, based on a sighting of a semi-palmated plover on Wikaninnish Beach near Tofino.

"Lone Plover" silk painting

During the festival I demonstrated my coloured pencil skills by working on a piece which I call The Nest Builders: Cedar Waxwings. It depicts a pair of birds I observed at the Reifel Bird Sanctuary last spring as they harvested bullrush fluff to use as nesting material.

The Nest Builders: Cedar Waxwings

At this time of year, time is at a premium and no sooner is one event over than another looms perilously close! My next objective was meeting the deadline for an exhibition called Cascadia: A Juried Exhibition of West Coast Flora and Fauna  (August 23-November 16, 2014) at the Surrey Art Gallery. This exhibition runs in conjunction with a travelling exhibition organized by the National Gallery of Canada entitled Flora and Fauna: 400 Years of Artists Inspired by Nature (September 20-December 14, 2014). The theme is right up my proverbial alley, and I'm pleased my new silk painting Where the Forest Meets the Shore: Northwestern Crows was selected by the jury.

"Where the Forest Meets the Shore: Northwestern Crows" silk painting

And then there was one last summer festival - a particular favourite of mine. It's the annual Arts Alive event in my home town of Langley. I've been a fixture at this event for years and my booth was, as usual, well attended with new visitors and familiar faces. On display at the festival were the Adirondack chairs that were painted by local artists and auctioned in support of Critter Care Wildlife Society. The auction has now closed and I'm pleased to report that my chair earned more than $2,000. That will feed a lot of mouths at the wildlife shelter and I'm grateful to the purchaser for their generosity. (Read about my chair in my previous post, A meadow of wild flowers.)

During all of this activity - the creation and preparation of artwork, the manufacture of art cards and other sundries, the packing, the transporting, the setting up and taking down of festival displays, the list goes on - I've been managing lively young kitten Hugo and even more active young puppy Lily. When not being completely distracting in their cute antics, they have needs to be met in terms of their care, as do the adult felines in the household (thankfully they are much more self-sufficient).

Lily and Hugo

Archie and little "brother" Hugo

Hugo and much older "brother" Rupert

At times it feels like living in the middle of a Bugs Bunny cartoon only with two versions of the Tasmanian Devil to contend with.

But for the moment and for the next couple of weeks... all's relatively peaceful. I can enjoy the balance of the summer at a reasonable pace and make the most of the fun to be had with a pair of baby animals around the house. I'll be trekking in the park, tidying up my garden, catching up with friends and, of course, working on a few more pieces of art in time for the events that will roll around next month, as well as preparing for the workshops I'll be teaching over the fall.

There may be no rest for a weary artist but there's a lot of satisfaction in the work and the life, and I wouldn't trade it for all the summer holidays I'm unable to take. Luckily, like the birds I so enjoy depicting in my work, I hope to be making a southerly migration in the winter months to come for some well earned rest, relaxation and re-invigorating sunshine.

But that's too far ahead to do much more than dream about. For now, I'll be enjoying these last days of summer and preparing for the next onslaught of activity that will arrive with the turning of the calendar page.

Note: You can keep abreast of my many art activities on an ongoing basis by visiting the News page of my website, signing up to receive my monthly e-newsletter, or connecting with me on Facebook.

Friday 11 July 2014

A meadow of wildflowers

Once again I find myself performing a labour of artistic love: an interesting project for a worthy cause. What could be more satisfying? I'm talking about the Adirondack (or Muskoka if you like) chair that I'm painting as another fundraiser for Critter Care Wildlife Society.

Last year, you might remember, I completed a similar project only the theme I chose was Springtime in the Forest (read about it in A forest a chair?). The images were based on my rambles in Campbell Valley Park which is, coincidentally, where Critter Care's Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre is located. My inspiration for this year's chair was once again the park I love so well, but progressing into a new season: a summer meadow of wildflowers.

There are buttercups and daisies....

Lupines and tiger lilies...

And an abundance of ripe, golden salmonberries....

Bees buzz lazily among the blooms...

And a hummingbird flies by in search of nectar.

Voila! A chair from which a meadow of flowers springs.

Hopefully it will prove to be a good fundraiser for Critter Care who relies on sources like this to assist in the Society's necessary work of rehabilitating orphaned and/or injured wild mammals. A number of artists have painted chairs this year and all are being auctioned over the summer. You can see them at this online auction site: (bidding starts July 12 at 11am). There's also a Critters in the Garden Facebook page.

The chairs will be making their in-person public debut at Critter Care's annual open house weekend, July 12-13, 2014. Full details about the event are available on the Society's website: The chairs will also be on display at Arts Alive on August 16. The auction will close on August 17 and chairs will go to the highest bidders.

And what will be the theme of next year's chair? Visit my blog again in mid-July of 2015 to find out!