Thursday 9 July 2015

Starting small

Small things have always appealed to me, both as an individual and as an artist. Maybe it's due to a lifetime spent in south western British Columbia, cocooned among trees and foliage. I'm tuned into the flicker of feathers, the wobble of a wiggling insect, the unfurling fiddlehead of a fern, a ripple on the surface of a pond. I can be distracted by dew on moss, the intricacies of lichen, the patterns of leaves, but mostly, as my readers and art appreciators know, I'm drawn to birds and animals. They're like sparks of energy, especially the wild creatures encountered unexpectedly in the forest or on the shore. I'm not one for expansive landscapes or vast, open skies. While I adore the shoreline, where forest meets ocean, I like the security of trees and boulders nearby. I'd just as soon peer into a tidal pool as gaze out at the open ocean. When I venture onto a mountain top or into a prairie, I'm prone to be looking down to see what's going on around my feet rather than admire the grand vista.

A small drawing of
an oystercatcher.
Now, as I'm lured back into my studio once again for some art-making after a sabbatical of several months, it seems fitting that I start small. The vivid hues of dyes flowing through silk feel overwhelming at the moment, and my attention span is too short to cope with the hours upon hours required to complete a large, intricate coloured pencil piece. What fits for me right now are small drawings - little things that fit in the palm of my hand or, if I'm fulfilling my liking for skinny shapes, across two hands.

There's a sweetness about working small, an innocence to be found in exploring a subject on a basis that's limited by size and therefore time. I can capture the essence, the attitude, the pose, the feel, a little bit of the environment, a few details, and voilà... it's done. I'm working with my familiar friends - my coloured pencils - but by working small there's no huge commitment, no great struggle, just a satisfying foray into consigning an image to paper. The right thing when life's other challenges are just shy of overwhelming.

I also find myself lured by subjects that honor the renewal of life. A friend of mine has the good fortune of having a flycatcher couple nesting by her house - actually ON her house, wedged onto the plastic box that houses telecommunication cables. The birds themselves are not particularly striking - small but exquisitely beautiful in their simple elegance.

Their nest, squashed against the wall, is a marvel to behold - a cozy work of art woven from moss and lichen and bits of grass. The pair is now in the process of brooding a second family, having successfully launched four babies into the world a while ago.

The flycatcher's nest filled with sleepy chicks.

Another bird family - some killdeer - very nearly brought me to my knees recently out of simple gratitude for the opportunity to witness them. The mother did her species' characteristic broken wing performance or I would not have even realized there were chicks in the vicinity, but there they were: fuzz-balls on chopstick legs darting among the seaweed and boulders on a Vancouver Island beach.

They blended so well with the environment I noticed them only when they scurried from one point to the next where they would freeze, motionless, till they carried on again. Their parents shrieked warnings continually all the while, or perhaps they were attempting to distract me, despite my assurances that I meant no harm and the respectful distance I maintained.

While I expected that my art might be changed in some fundamental way when I returned to the studio, so far I am finding comfort in simply scaling down. It feels OK just to focus on subjects I love in a medium in which I'm fluent. The time for experimentation may come, but not just yet... not till I regain my equilibrium and learn to breathe again.

And now, back to the tiny drawing board.