Small Work

I began, like many artists, drawing in small sketchbooks. Later, as a biology student I filled field books. No spot on a saxifrage, no lily stamen was too insignificant to draw. I got a job at a botanical garden. There followed some years of bending over my drawing table, sometimes with a magnifying glass at hand, to work on elaborate watercolour botanical paintings. When I finally looked up, I rubbed my neck, took off my glasses, and realized I wanted to paint BIG.

I bought an easel and some big canvases, some brushes wide enough to paint a wall with, and some acrylic paints. I still love painting big, standing (dancing, when no one’s looking) upright at the easel, with the brush at arms length.

But this year I decided to return to the small. Partly because most people I know are running out of either space or money. But also because I wanted, for a while, to do a painting a day. The painting a day idea is part of a recent popularization of drawing. I'm not sure if you’ve noticed, but a lot of people are drawing these days. They are drawing in sketchbooks and journals. They are drawing their kids and their pets, their breakfasts and their living rooms; they are drawing in their local cafes and parks. They are meeting for sketch-ins and starting blogs on drawing. Some of them are artists but most aren’t. They are drawing for the joy of it and for the special attention that one must pay to the material moment when they draw.  

Attending to this practice was part of the appeal of preparing for a small show. Drawing responds, like muscles, surprisingly to exercise. I always find that I get better quickly when I draw often, even if it’s not for long every day.

For several weeks before my show, no matter what other deadlines I had to meet, I set aside a few hours a day to work on a painting. Because I was working fast and small I got around to painting subjects I had set aside for years waiting for the right moment to begin. For instance, I had always planned to paint from a photograph I took of my daughter when she was 17, wearing a bird mask. She’s 23 now. The final painting is not as large as what I had planned to do 6 years ago, but there is satisfaction in making the image after all these years, however small.

Bird Girl, 4" x 6" , acrylic on paper

It got me to thinking of those miniature portraits that were popular in the 16th and 17th centuries, tiny perfect likenesses the size of a quarter. Some of them were made to travel--for example a nobleman might have a portrait of his daughter painted to be carried to potential suitors. Which probably provided the first opportunity for long distance daters to say “you don’t look anything like your picture.”

I can’t quite imagine focusing down to the level of the miniaturist but I can see the fascination. The philosopher Bachelard, in his book The Poetics of Space", devotes a whole chapter to the miniature. He says…. “ the miniscule, a narrow gate, opens up an entire world. The details of a thing can be the sign of a new world which like all worlds, contains the attributes of greatness. Miniature is one of the refuges of greatness.”

Check out this website on ten artists working in the miniature. One uses the hairs of dead flies as his paintbrush!

More on everyday drawing and the illustrated journal in January…


Coastal Gothic

Kim and I are tied to the dock in a place called Dawson's Landing, in Rivers Inlet, waiting for a series of vicious storms to blow themselves out. Hoping to round Cape Caution and return to Vancouver Island soon....

Meanwhile, keeping oneself busy in Dawson's Landing is not easy. Three people live here. There is a general store, a fuel pump, a water hose, and a collections of docks piled with rusting fuel barrels, old generators, coils of rope, wire, chain, old refrigerators, boats, and even a Telus phone booth (though there's no wires for miles).



In the field

I've always loved the term "in the field."  There is a romance to it, which I first fell prey to as a young biologist. All the most exciting people I knew disappeared every summer, into the field. I haven't done real field work for many years but I like to think of some of my travels this way. So, I've included here, my first blog post on this versatile website (designed for me by the wonderful graphic designer Anne-Marie Estrada) some sketches from recent forays (indulge me) in the field. (Click on the thumbnails).

In May, my husband Kim and I travelled to Honduras to raft the Rio Platano, which runs through a Unesco World Heritage Bioreserve set aside as one of the largest pristine rainforests in Central America.


drawing at the campsite



 Rio Platano

 In July I headed off with my old friend Nancy Baron, to work as volunteer wardens on Mitlenatch Island. Nancy and I have been spending this week in the field every summer for almost 20 years! It is one of our favourite places, a dry, golden island sitting in the middle of the summer blue water, like the belly button of the Strait of Georgia. Hundreds of birds: gulls, cormorants, pigeon guillemots, crows and oystercatchers seek it's refuge for nesting each summer. 




A few weeks ago I shipped off for a naturalist stint on the historic schooner, Maple Leaf. I have spent many weeks on this boat over the years and had the chance to travel to some of the most beautiful parts of the coast. It had been several years since I had been to Haida Gwaii and it was more exciting than ever--sailing under clear skies, on calm seas, through fields of plankton and dozens of Humpbacks and enormous Fin whales mowing through their summer feast.



Just got back from more local sailing, where I had the chance to sketch the sensuous eroded sandstone of Hornby Island.


 Next adventure: Kim and I will set off this weekend on our sailboat Circadia for the Great Bear Rainforest, of BC's central coast, where we hope to catch the rush of salmon returning to some of the last great pristine watersheds in North America. This is one of the most exciting natural events on the planet, a powerful nutrient river which flows from fish into everything from grizzlies and wolves, to dippers, gulls, flies, and the very forest itself. Along the way, we'll see if we can get a glimpse of the Spirit Bear (a rare white form of the Black Bear).  I'll keep you posted from the field!




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