Crow Therapy

It’s been a busy week, starting on Monday when I was interviewed by Gloria Macarenko on the CBC Radio One’s show — On The Coast.

You can listen to the interview here.

The subject of our chat was my City Crow calendar in particular, and “crow therapy” in general.

I must admit that when I first coined the phrase “crow therapy” for city dwellers, I half meant it as a joke.

After all, there are already so many cures from our mental and spiritual ailments these days — ranging from the snake oil variety, to the truly helpful.

As I scroll through my social media feed and my blood pressure inevitably begins to rise — there it is — the ad for “Calm”  (apparently the best-selling app of the year) floating serenely down the page. It seems to actually know which posts are going to aggravate me most so that it can make a timely and soothing appearance.

There is the lovely forest bathing therapy, and that is generally free – all you need is some forest in which to wander. That, and hiking in the mountains looking for ravens, are two of my favourite calming “apps.” Unfortunately, I have neither forest nor mountain on my doorstep, so those types of respite take a bit of time and planning.

Given how fraught our daily lives can be, we could all take to wandering the mountain trails and forest pathways on a full-time basis, having bid farewell to our jobs and families.

Or, we could look for a stress-busting technique that’s more readily at hand.

There are always those handy phone apps, of course. But it seems counter productive to spend yet more time looking at screens in order to reduce the tension often brought about by too much time immersed in that world to begin with.

What we need is a window OUT of our normal world, even for if it’s just for a few minutes.

Therefore, I present to you: Crow Therapy — 100% free, and readily available!

A crow knows what’s it like to be struggling to make it in the big city.

They understand.

A crow isn’t perfect.

They don’t expect you to be either.

So what are you waiting for?

A  Crow Therapist, or two,  are likely waiting for you outside right now.

Speak up, I don’t have all day here …

Coming soon: 6 Reasons Why Crows Make Great Therapists

If you really need a lot of Crow Therapy,  you may benefit from the company of thousands of corvids. See my blog post: Last Call at Still Creek

 

 

Possibility of Spring

This wasn’t supposed to be a blog-writing day, but I feel I have some “stop press” news that must be shared, along with photographic evidence.

I almost hesitate to share this wild idea, but I think there is a small chance that … dare I even speak the thought? … spring might have arrived.

I hasn’t just been the rain.

So. Much. Rain.

Record-breaking rain.

It’s also been cold. Brr. We have lived on the same street for 25 years now. Normally at this time of year, it’s a candy-floss fiesta of pink blossoms. This year, it looks like this.

But yesterday, the rain stopped. The sun came out.

It’s actually mild enough to stop and stand in the garden and watch what’s happening.

These are a few of the amazing things I saw going on in the garden in just one hour this morning.

Chickadee calling his heart out in the snowbell tree

One of my favourite hellebores.

A fox sparrow taking a breather on the garden fence.

A crow with nesting on his mind. I saw George with a twig in his broken beak earlier this week.

Norther Flicker on the peak of our roof – taking a short break from hammering on the metal chimney.

The daphne bush that was crushed with snow all winter has survived!

Buds starting on the coral bark maple. Oh, and a crow.

 

Song sparrow in the Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (aka Corkscrew Hazel).

A bushtit at the feeder. Only one pair came – not the usual “suet-feeder clogging” crowd. A sure sign that they’re getting ready to nest. And one of them left the garden with some moss in it’s beak.

Goldfinch stopping at the bird bath for a little paddle.

I’m sure the birds have known it’s spring for weeks now, in spite of the weather. They’ve got important business to be dealing with, rain or no rain.

I’ve just been a bit slow on the uptake, what with the amount of time and effort needed to struggle into full rain gear and wellies for every excursion — and then the overwhelming desire to get back inside as soon as humanly possible.

Now that it’s stopped raining for five minutes, I strongly suggest spending a few minutes outside.  Just drink it all in and catch up with the birds.

www.junehunter.com

Birth of An Urban Nature Enthusiast

Pardon the rather overwrought title, but it’s true; an elementary school “Nature Collection” assignment changed my life.

It was also, at the age of 7, my first bitter taste of academic failure.

On the face of it, it was a rather fun assignment — go out into nature and make a collection of pods, seed and leaves from a variety of trees.

leaf-collection-white

The one tiny problem was the complete lack of such trees anywhere near where I lived.

Most of my fellow pupils at Saint Andrew’s school, located in the middle of an English industrial city (Newcastle upon Tyne), probably shared my problem. Some of them may have lived within reach of Exhibition Park or the Town Moor, but I lived down on the Quayside. We had the Tyne river, docks, ancient buildings — but no sycamores, oaks or hazel trees for miles.

The Quayside in more recent years (2010). Our family's flat used to be the area circled in red to the left of the photo.

The Quayside in more recent years (2010). Our family’s flat used to be the area circled in red to the left of the photo. I was much more acquainted with the exact girder pattern of the Tyne Bridge just above my bedroom window than I was with the mysteries of trees.

Now, don’t misunderstand me, I loved growing up down there. In spite of the complete lack of any family-oriented facilities (including trees), it was a truly epic place for childhood adventure.

High Level Bridge

The High Level Bridge viewed from a part of the old walls where we liked to play. There are a few small trees growing there now, but it was mostly just weeds back in the 50’s and 60’s.

There were a handful of kids in the neighbourhood — my little brother and I, the two sons of the pub owner, and the two daughters of another bank caretaker.

We were “free range” and felt we owned the city.

The ancient city walls were our forts and houses, and many games were staged in the abandoned graveyard of All Saints Church.

All Saint's Church, Newcastle upon Tyne

All Saints Church had no congregation so it was left to turn into an overgrown adventure playground. Because the church itself was a protected historic building it was never demolished.

It didn’t occur to me for a moment that we were nature-deprived. There were, after all, plentiful weeds on the old World War II bomb-sites with which to create spectacular bouquets.

One of my favourite childhood bouquet ingredients. It’s called fireweed here in Canada, but in the UK it has the more poetic name “Rosebay WIllowherb.”

But the dreaded Nature Collection project was real eye opener. I’d never actually seen the sycamore trees it spoke of, with their clever little helicopter seedpods. I certainly had idea where to go and collect samples. My mum, who didn’t drive and had my little brother to look after, couldn’t really help, other that getting some books out of the library for me.

In the end I just handed in some pictures of the items we were supposed to collect. It felt like a massive failure.

sycamore seed pods

Looking back, I feel some lingering annoyance that we were set an assignment so bound fail. It was a classic curriculum vs real life mismatch.

On the other hand, it was a great gift. I feel as if I’ve been diligently working on that darn assignment ever since.

When I moved to other, greener parts of the world, I pressed all kinds of leaves and flowers in books. Sometimes I composed pictures of with the dried results and sent them to my mum back in Newcastle. I recently came across a few ancient specimens in my massive copy of Wild Flowers of the Pacific Northwest.

Pressed flowers

I still feel a thrill, fifty plus years later, every time I come across any new or particularly beautiful little specimen of leaf, seed, fungus, nest or moss.

Or crow, come to that. We only saw pigeons and gulls down on the Quayside.

Vera the crow

I’m always especially thrilled to see the ways in which nature and the city intersect

I love to see a weed forcing it’s way through asphalt, or human rubbish selected by birds to furnish their nests.

Bushtit nest

I found this fallen and abandoned bushtit nest and “collected” it earlier this year.

Bushtit nest

Detail of the bushtit nest. Construction materials include moss, spider webs (for strength and stretch), leaves, grass and fragments of man-made fibres.

This crow’s nest I found on the ground recently is a great town bird/country bird collaboration – an ingenious mix of twigs, moss, twine, packing fluff and zap straps.

Crow's Nest

Crow's nest detail

So, every piece of moss or rust, every bird I see; every lovely fallen leaf that catches my eye; it’s all being mentally added to the ongoing “Nature Collection” project.

leaf-collection-2

www.junehunter.com

On another small note, greeting cards, ornaments and my City Crow calendar are now available on my web site.calendar-cover-sq

Winter Birds of the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Ornaments by June Hunter

City Crow Christmas cards by June Hunter

Winter Birds of the Pacific Northwest Greeting Cards by June Hunter

 

 

Hug a Crow This Earth Day

Not literally, of course. Crow hugging is fraught with peril at the best of times, but especially in spring when nesting season has them a bit tense.

Baby Face Crow © June Hunter Images

Please, do not hug me.

But I do suggest that you give the crow (or pick your favourite bird, plant, patch of moss or mollusk) a special thought today.

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coral bark maple © June Hunter Images

mussels at Botanical Beach © June Hunter Images 2016

It’s Earth Day so, ideally, we should be extending our love to the entire planet.

But that’s a hard thing to do, particularly when what the planet needs from us right now is massive change —change that is going to be really tough for us to make.

John Marzluff quote2

The majority of the world’s population now lives in cities, where we often feel very cut off from what we think of as Nature.

Lyanda quote

So, given that most of us are urbanites these days, how are we to develop the necessary connection with nature in order to care enough to make change and move towards saving the planet?

As my dear mother used to say, “wherever you go, there you are.”

And where you are now, even if it’s in the heart of the city, has tenacious bits of nature thriving in it.

It just takes a slight focus shift to start becoming aware of, and amazed by it.

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This crow is tending a nest at Hornby and Robson in the heart of downtown Vancouver, right by the Art Gallery. A friend who works at the gallery told me that it’s probably the same pair who nested there last year and caused a traffic kerfuffle when one of their babies flew into the back of someone’s convertible just outside of Café Artigiano.

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Collecting nest furnishings in the heart of downtown Vancouver.

Often the thing you tend to notice first, just because of its size and boldness, is a crow.

CameliaCrow ©June Hunter Images 2016

I find that the crow is your gateway bird, leading to the habit of noticing the bird world as a whole. Once you’ve started to look up to see what the crows are up to, you can’t help but start to notice the robins, sparrows, bushtits, chickadees and hawks going about their more subtle, but equally fascinating, avian business.

Bushtit in the Rain © June Hunter Images 2016

Coopers Hawk on William © June Hunter Images 2016

Chickadee in the Snowbell Tree © June Hunter Images 2016

And noticing birds is, in turn, a gateway to the wonder of nature in general.

Colin Tudge quote

The task of saving the earth often seems far too big and therefore hopeless.

The tools we need this Earth Day are empathy and hope.

Someone who embodies both of these qualities is 87 year old Jean Vanier, who created L’Arche — a unique and loving community for mentally disable adults. Here are some of his thoughts on birds, as told to columnist and writer, Ian Brown in a Globe and Mail interview.

Jean Vanier quote

Eric and Erica on Roof

Hmmm, something to think about …

logo with crow


Some notes on the author’s quoted in this blog post:

John Marzluff’s Wikipedia page says this:
“John Marzluff is a professor of wildlife science at the University of Washington and author of In the Company of Crows and Ravens, Gifts of the Crow, and Welcome to Subirdia. His lab once banded crows with a Dick Cheney mask.”
— so you know he’d be fun guy to know!
Subirdia is his most recent book about the amazing adaptability of birds, their importance, and what we can do to help them survive in our urbanized world.

I first discovered Seattle author Lyanda Lynn Haupt when I picked up a copy of Crow Planet several years ago. It remains one of my favourite books, combining science, poetry and humour  in a way that I could read all day. She’s also written a wonderful book on city wildlife in general (The Urban Bestiary) and I look forward to her next one on the subject of starlings. And she has a blog: The Tangled Nest.

Colin Tudge is a British biologist and entertaining author, The Bird is only one of many books he’s written. I next want to read his book The Secret Life of Trees.

You can read more about the life and work of  Jean Vanier on his website.

Ian Brown is an author and  columnist for the Globe and Mail newspaper. His books include Boy in the Moon, about his severely disabled son and his latest, Sixty, The Beginning of the End, or the End of the Beginning?  That one’s also on my reading list.

 

In Praise of Early Mornings

Moon

Insomnia can be a drag. I don’t think I’ve actually had a really solid night’s sleep since my first child was born almost 26 years ago. First of all it’s the usual – feeding, teething, nightmares. Then it becomes a habit to wake up every few hours. After that, the teenage years come to keep you (well, me) wide awake and staring into the dark for hours at a time. Then, suddenly, you’re an old lady and everybody knows that old ladies sleep very lightly.

But, as with all problems, there are sometimes perks. I no longer lie in bed staring at the ceiling. I get up and explore. Those very early mornings have become a special time for me. It’s as if I’ve made a heist from the time bank and I have an hour or so to fritter away.

First of all, a cup of tea must be made.

The essential early morning companion.

The essential early morning companion.

After that, what to do? Sometimes I just wander around the house admiring the sheer artistry of the mess a family can create. Strewn clothing, the table buried in a pile of newspapers, magazines and neglected paperwork. Somehow at that time in the morning it doesn’t seem right to worry about tidying, so I can just appreciate the story of how everything got where it came to rest. I am always somewhat comforted by a quote from a Globe and Mail columnist I read years ago that said something about the homes of the most interesting people “showing signs of recent struggle”. I often think that (a) we must be really fascinating and (b) our housekeeping style has the added bonus of being a burglary deterrent. “Hmm, this place has already been ransacked — let’s move on.”

Our house is pretty chilly in the early hours, before the furnace comes on, so in winter I start the day in woollen slippers and a double layer of dressing gowns — one flannel, one fleece. This is a handy because I can slip out of the house, onto the roof deck, or into the garden, without immediately freezing to death.

Frost on the coral bark maple.

Frost on the coral bark maple.

Sometimes I even venture out of the garden in my multi-layered dressing gown attire. Luckily we have understanding neighbours.

Sometimes I even venture out of the garden in my multi-layered dressing gown attire. Luckily we have understanding neighbours.

Everything at that special hour seems somehow very particular. In that little bubble of time I like to watch the birds arriving and see how they start their feathered days.

A pine siskin takes a moment in the ice fog for a little personal grooming.

A pine siskin takes a moment in the ice fog for a little personal grooming.

Two Robins, One Starling

Two Robins, One Starling

I like to look up at my particular little patch of hydro wire criss-crossed sky and see it changing. Every dawn is like the turning of a mini-season.

Crows enjoying the moonset as the sun rises.

Crows enjoying the moonset as the sun rises.

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Crows enjoying a rosy dawn.

Always, when I look to the east, I see the crows returning in small groups from the roost at Still Creek. They settle on the wires and enjoy the view for a while, do a little grooming, have a bite to eat — and then we all go on about our respective busy days.

Who needs Tiffany, when you have nature's diamond necklace?

Who needs Tiffany, when you have nature’s diamond necklace?

A frosty take off. Things to get to at the office ...

A frosty take off. Things to get to at the office …

 

logo with crow

Just Another Day

It started as a normal Monday in East Vancouver. The dawn made it’s spectacular appearance (an hour late due Daylight Savings).

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Birds began to reappear in the sky, taking their posts for the coming day.

Dawn bird

Eric and his family arrived at their spot — in my garden, waiting for the first peanut handout of the day.

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I was thrilled to see the first downy woodpeckers had returned from whichever winter destination they’d chosen.

Downy Woodpecker male

I noted that the house sparrows were collecting nesting material. And giving the pine siskin some interior design ideas at the same time.

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Suddenly, trouble in paradise.

Eric and his family of crows dove into the lilac tree where all the small songbirds like to be.

I thought the crows had suddenly and unexpectedly decided to start dining on full-grown sparrows and chickadees.

But no — the crows had spotted a juvenile Sharp Shinned Hawk darting into the lilac.

No doubt the hawk had certain designs on the songbirds, snack-wise.

Sharp Shinned Hawk

The hawk fled, pursued by Eric, his family and the neighbourhood watch committee of concerned crows. They flew around the neighbourhood all day.

Hawk soaring, crows cawing.

Hawk on High

A crow keeps a wary eye on the hawk from the top of street sign.

 

So, now we have a new kid on the block, adding to the daily excitement. Another hazard for smaller birds, like the bald eagles and ravens that already cruise the skies. But another thrilling ingredient into the mix of wildlife that calls East Vancouver home.

Last Dawn of 2014

Dawn Flight

I took some time to appreciate the last dawn of 2014 – and such a dawn it was.

After a festive season of heath challenges, it seems even more important that usual to appreciate the small things that are big.

Being with family, good friends, health (it’s all relative), moments of quiet loveliness, every dawn, every sunset. Crows, naturally.

A week or so before Christmas my husband was in a nasty bike accident. When we found him in emergency he couldn’t remember the last five years or so of his life, or how he had come to be in the ER. Thanks to his helmet, he did not have a major brain injury, “just” a concussion. By the next day he remembered everything, except for the ride to work, the accident, the ride in the ambulance and the hours spent in the hospital. These things he may never remember. Concussions, I am learning, are tricky things, taking anything from weeks to months to recover from. Phillip has spent about 90% of the holiday season in bed, in the dark with his new best friends — audio books. Even watching TV or reading is too much for his rattled brain at this point.

He will get better eventually, with rest and quiet, so as frustrating as the process of healing can be, we are grateful every day that things weren’t much, much worse.

So this morning I made a point of spending an hour or so bundled up on the top deck of our house to welcome in the last day of 2014 in all its splendour. This may be the most exciting part of my New Year’s celebrations this year, but that’s just fine with me.

The first of the commuter crows arrive.

The first of the commuter crows arrive.

As the sun rose, the sky behind the poplars at the end of our street was painted with sugared almond shades of peach, raspberry and lavender. And, as reliable as clockwork, the crows began to arrive from the east and their night time roost at Still Creek. Most were just passing through, heading to their “day jobs” in North Vancouver and points west of here.

Crow's Nest View of the Dawn

But the locals stopped on the very tops of the poplars as if to take in the breath-taking views. I’ve often noticed them hanging around there on mornings with particularly gorgeous sunrises, as if they are as susceptible to the beauty as I am. Of course, it could be that they sit there every morning and I only notice them when I happen to be out taking in the view myself, but I prefer to go with my “crows as dawn worshippers” theory.

Incoming

You can see the neighbourhood waking up from the vantage point of our roof, the sky changing and a positive rush hour of birds – flickers, gulls, geese, sparrows, juncos, were spotted this morning, as well as Eric and the gang.

Gulls over the Mountains

The northern flicker scooped the weeping birch perch this morning.

The northern flicker scooped the weeping birch perch this morning.

As I watched Eric and his little group huddling together on the wires, I was also reminded of how grateful we’ve been for all the friends who’ve rallied around since the accident. It’s the crow equivalent of volunteers leaving the little crow family group to head over and scare away the eagle. I’m sure our friends would scare eagles away for us too, but, in the absence of winged predators, we are very grateful for all of the soup, cookies, help and concern that we’ve received.

Family Group on Pink

And, of course, I’m very grateful to Eric and his corvid kin, because watching them lifts me away from my worries and cares for a while as I realize there are so many lives being lived in parallel to our human ones, even here in the middle of East Vancouver.

The colours of the sunrise glow on Eric's feathers

The colours of the sunrise glow on Eric’s feathers

Happy New Year, everyone. From me, and Eric.

The Blue Bird of Happiness

Final Stellar's Jay Composition

May that blue bird of happiness sit on your shoulder as it sat on mine when (at last!) a member of the tricky and elusive Stellar’s Jay tribe took pity on me and posed for a portrait.

I can’t really complain about the birds I’ve been able to photograph this summer. From the lovely little white crowned sparrows in my garden to the ravens that seem to have followed me around in recent months, it’s been a splendid season of bird viewing.

But there was one that seemed to delight in teasing me. Hiking in the woods and on mountains I was constantly on the lookout for the vivid blue flash of a Stellar’s Jay. And that’s exactly what I would see – a streak of electric blue disappearing between the shadows. Far too fast and distant for any hope of a photograph, it seemed that the Stellar’s Jay was mocking me. Quite likely from what I know of their corvid personality!

Worse, people would tell me they had these birds visiting them regularly in their gardens. One friend had one expire in his after being attacked by a cat (keep your cats indoors people!). I did have one in my garden once, about three years ago. Unfortunately it was in the deep shadow of the curly hazel tree (collecting nuts) where it was too dark to get a good shot. I only ever use natural light and a hand-held camera, so I am always at the mercy of the light.

Summer was pretty much done when we went for our holidays on Vancouver Island, and I was almost resigned to yet another season without a good Stellar’s Jay photograph.

The first stop on our trip was a visit with old friends who live in the village of Cumberland. Walking with my friend in the woods around their house I could hear the enticing call of the jay and occasionally saw that oh so tantalizing streak of blue.

Finally, I was standing alone, admiring my friend’s garden, when the bird shown here flew close to me at the edge of the woods. Instead of flitting away as usual, this one just sat there — in sufficient light for a decent photograph — and looking magnificent. He even considerately posed on a gorgeous moss-covered branch in a shade of lime green that perfectly complemented his feathers.

This is the original photograph of the Stellar's Jay taken in the woods outside Cumberland, BC.

This is the original photograph of the Stellar’s Jay taken in the woods outside Cumberland, BC.

It was as if he was saying, “Here, you’ve suffered enough. I’m posing for a perfect photo for you. Don’t muck it up.”

The final Stellar’s Jay portrait is composed using my usual layered approach. There is the Cumberland jay in starring role, with a supporting cast of cracked concrete, a fennel plant, the shadows of maple leaves left in a wet fall sidewalk, a tiny crow feather, grey blue sky and a Canadian postmark.

Some of the other images used in the composition of the Stellar's Jay portrait.

Some of the other images used in the composition of the Stellar’s Jay portrait.

This little blue bird of happiness is available in my online shop as a signed print, tile and as jewellery. You may have him with you to cheer up on any day, no matter how grey.

Stellar's Jay Tile

Stellar's Jay Earrings

Pattern, Pattern, Everywhere

 

Just a small selection of the 1,500 or so rust, peeling paint, graffiti, old china, wallpaper etc photos I've collected.

Just a small selection of the 1,500 or so rust, peeling paint, graffiti, old china, wallpaper etc photos I’ve collected.

It’s a rainy day here in Vancouver. The first of many, I suspect. But, to quote one of my mother’s many handy sayings, “every cloud has a silver lining.” These grey, wet days are perfect for heading out and adding to my “texture” photo collection.

I think it started with the battleship linoleum on out bathroom floor when I was little. I used to stare at it and could see several distinct scenes of action. The one I remember most clearly was a lion swimming in a strong current of green swirling water. In those distant pre-internet (even pre-TV) days, I used to make up stories about the world within the lino. More recently, I was sure that this intersection of green and blue looked, if you squint a bit, like a tropical oasis.

Eddies Beach

So began a lifelong fascination with patterns and pictures in the most unlikely places – rust, lichen, water, grating, reflections, lace, wallpaper, ice, fibreglass, peeling paint. Often to the exasperation of my long-suffering family. A few years ago I was in London with my son, then eighteen. As I crouched over a rusty grating to take the hundredth photo of the day, he said, “do you hear that”. I said “what?” and he replied, “it’s the sound of my eyes rolling”. I smile every time I hunker down to take yet another picture in the gutter or on a fence. I find it best to go solo on these expeditions these days!

I just checked the “textures” folder on my computer. It contains 1488 images. I’ve taken many more times that number of this type photos, but these are the ones I’ve chosen to save. What do I do with them all? Some of them end up as images in their own right, large canvases or prints. I love the fact that some of my favourite and most striking images come from extremely humble origins.

This slightly Gustav Klimt-inspired piece is actually a section of a burned out and rusted car I found deep in the woods in northern British Columbia.

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This rather spectacular study of blue and orange was created by the wear pattern of a chain on a dumpster in the far corner of the parking lot of my local Costco.

Spectacular Rust on a Dumpster in our Local Costco Parking Lot

Spectacular Rust on a Dumpster in our Local Costco Parking Lot

Some of the images are just fun – taken often around the house, like this one looking into a green plastic glass. I haven’t quite figured out a purpose for this one yet.

green glass

Most of the texture team play a supporting role in other images, layered to add depth (both in terms of meaning and visual interest). Every time I go back to the North East of England where I grew up, one of the things on my “must do” list is to climb up the 325 narrow winding steps of the tower at Durham Cathedral. From the top is a breath-taking panoramic view of the town and surrounding countryside. But the journey up the tower is fascinating too, as the stone walls have been embellished with graffiti – ancient and modern.

Layer upon layer of human efforts to leave a mark.

Layer upon layer of human efforts to leave a mark.

I’ve used images of the tower walls layered in some of my images of contemporary Vancouver crows. In combining the images I’m trying to keep memories of my UK background current in my daily crow-filled Vancouver life. I’m thinking about how crows are both ancient and modern and, like people, prone to mischief. I’m sure they’d be prolific graffiti artists, if only they had opposable thumbs. And maybe, if we don’t get our human act together — crows and the ruins of Durham Cathedral may perhaps outlast us all …

A Crow Looks Back with Durham Cathedral Graffiti

 

Some textures are used to make jewellery. One of my most popular designs is “Ribbon”. This abstract striped pattern comes from a photograph of prismatic tape I found hanging in a physics lab. It’s silvery surface is designed to reflect different light waves, creating and ever-changing combination of colour and pattern and it moves in the breeze.

ribbon pattern and earringsMany of the images I take don’t even make it to the “textures” vault on the computer. Often they’re taken with my phone and see the light of day on my Instagram account. Lots of others flit across my Facebook page. 

Still nice and cloudy out there. Better grab the camera and head out in search of some lovely rust or mouldering plywood!

Blog Hop Around the World

The Blog Hop project is a world-wide thread in which bloggers talk about their creative processes.

As I’m pretty new to the world of blogging, I was honoured (and a wee bit intimidated) to be asked to participate in this blog hop project by Canmore artist and brilliant blogger, Linda Cote. I’ve admired Linda’s work online for a while but had the great pleasure of meeting her in person when she was in Vancouver this spring. We had a lovely morning of coffee and chat and she subsequently wrote a most splendid blog posting about the meeting. Linda is an accomplished print maker, her inspiration being the abundant natural beauty found in her spectacular part of the world. One of her works, a baby raven, has pride of place on my living room cabinet.

All of my work starts with my own nature-inspired photography. These images pass through my brain, computer and hands to become various kinds of artifacts — jewellery, tiles, prints and mixed media. I’m lucky enough to work from my home studio in East Vancouver and sell my work at local markets, through some galleries and online via Etsy and my web-site.

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So, on to the Blog Hop questions

WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON?

Like most artists, I’m perpetually stirring a bubbling cauldron with many ingredients. I’m always, always taking photographs. That’s just like breathing for me. A quick picture of a bird in the garden, a special trip to the mountains in search of ravens, or a shot of some sunlit rust that I noticed on the way to the post office – photography goes on 24/7. I’m constantly working on new tiles, prints and mixed media to fill orders from online customers, galleries, and to have ready to sell at local markets, or directly from my studio. I also design jewellery – incorporating my images with silver and resin. My daughter, Lily, makes the jewellery in the studio, and I keep her busy with new designs.

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My particular passion at the moment is mixed media and I’m working on a new line of pieces that I call the Parlour Portrait series. They are meant to evoke the formal family portraits that would, in days of old, have taken pride of place in the “best” room of the house. In my mythological parlour, a the definition of “family” is much broader, including crows, cats, robins, ravens, dogs and squirrels.

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One of the elements of the Parlour Portrait series that has me so excited is putting the image on metal leaf. As a photographer, I’m acutely aware of light. I love to keep reincorporating “light” into my work even as the original image is morphed into various objects. I design my jewellery so that the light bounces off the silver behind the image, giving it the illusion of being lit from within. I’m excited to have discovered a way to achieve this effect in my mixed media by using metal leaf behind the images. It’s something like alchemy, because you never quite know how—or if — it’s going to work until it’s done. And that’s addictive to me – I just can’t wait to get out to the studio and try it again to see what happens.

Of course, I do need to sell my work to survive, so I spend a certain amount of time on shameless self-promotion. I do enjoy being on Facebook, and writing my blog and periodic newsletters – not so much for the self-promotion, but to share my excitement at the amazing things I’ve just seen and the fun projects I’m working on. I’ve just done my last summer market and am now gearing up for a studio sale in another week. These are really fun events, and customers I’ve known for years come over, as well as new ones, and we enjoy some drinks and snacks — and they get a sneak peek at what’s going on behind the walls of the studio. The other great thing is that it forces me to clean and tidy up in advance. A necessary push, because otherwise I’d just start one project on top of another until you couldn’t actually get in the building any more!

 

HOW DOES YOUR WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS?

If I had to think about what my “trademark” aesthetic is, I guess it would include, in no particular order:

  • a sense of each image, be it a leaf, a cat, or a crow, being a portrait – in that it seeks to convey the particularity and “soul” of the subject
  • love of colour, particularly blue (which I use so much I almost consider a “neutral”)
  • a worn, nostalgic atmosphere
  • a sense of humour

I’ve never attended art school full-time, and most of my art techniques are self-taught. I think I take after my dad in this respect. He was a blue collar guy/bloke living the north of England, and he liked nothing more than spending time in his beloved shed, figuring out how to make a variety of things from ships in bottles, to marquetry to rocking horses. My mother was a keen gardener (although she didn’t actually have a garden until she retired) and she taught me to look at the details of nature. Although I’ve been influenced by many fellow artists (living and dead), I feel that my parents were the most profound teachers. I learned from them to make the most of the material and subject matter at hand, and, if you don’t know how to make something, figure it out!

Mam and Dad

WHY DO YOU CREATE WHAT YOU DO?

When I first started to write on this subject I was a bit stumped, but the more I thought about the question, the more reasons came to mind. This may be “too much information”, but here we go …

Not being a religious person, I have found the close observation of nature to be a great help to me in times of personal loss and stress. Even on an average, cheerful day, the sight of a chickadee or a crow can raise my spirits and lower my blood pressure by several notches in a few seconds. I hope to share at least a bit of that joyful feeling through my work.

In many ways I feel like a super-enthusiastic cub reporter, burning to share my latest “story” with the world. On my Facebook page and in my newsletters I often post pictures I’ve just taken that very day, sharing my enjoyment of the natural world and Vancouver in that way. In my image compositions I spend much more time choosing and combining images, and in a way that I hope tells a story about the subject matter in the image and, perhaps more ambitiously, expresses my world view.

On the other hand, in my more pessimistic moments, I envision fragments of my tiles being unearthed by some archeologist in a dystopian future, where they will be puzzled over. What could these impossibly beautiful creatures — crows, sparrows, chickadees — have been like before they became extinct?

I have always been partially motivated to make art in order to break rules and thwart expectations. As long as I can remember I’ve been asking “why” things have to be a certain way. I remember discussing with my mother, at a very young age, the validity of the “blue and green should never be seen” rule. As well as “little children should be seen and not heard”. Later I began to wonder why certain subject matter and art media were considered more “arty” than others. Black and white photography for example was always considered more refined than colour. I remember my first “photo shoot” at age nine with my brand new Kodak Instamatic camera. I was on a school field trip with my elementary school at the Flamingo Park Zoo in exotic Yorkshire. I had taken “amazing” shots of peacocks, tigers and (of course) flamingos. But back then there was only black and white film, so I couldn’t help but be a bit disappointed in the results. When colour film was available I never looked back!

My very first art objects were snow globes. In my twenties, I somehow started collecting snow globes and became dissatisfied with the “rules” that determined what was worthy to be immortalized in the wonderful shrine of snow-globedom. I figured out how to make my own so that I was free to enshrine my local favourite coffee shop and bookstore in the manner I felt they deserved. In a way, all of my work is a continuation of this: taking something that may not be generally revered by society and using my work and images to shine the spotlight upon it that I think it merits.

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And finally, this is perhaps not such a good analogy, but here goes. Many years ago I had a friend who really, really loved the music of Jimi Hendrix. He took it a personal challenge if someone did not share this passion, and would make them listen to a Hendrix song over and over again, very loudly. The only reason he could see for someone not to love Hendrix was that they weren’t REALLY LISTENING! I hope that my way of persuading people to notice and love the details of nature is a little less abrasive, but I do identify with my old friend’s evangelical instincts!

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HOW DOES YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS WORK?

Because I feel that I’ve used so many words already, and because I have a variety of different processes on the go at any one time: I’ve made a diagram:

Creative Process Diagram no logo

 

It is my great pleasure to pass on the blog hop torch to wonderful Edmonton artist (and fellow descendant of Geordies) Sydney Lancaster. I can’t wait to find out more about her work and process by reading her coming blog hop post.