At the entrance to False Bay on Lasqueti Island there’s a narrow passage between two uninhabited islets. High above the channel on a sky-scraping Douglas fir, a bald eagle surveys a wide domain. Below, goose-goslings paddle hard to stay close to their folks. Oystercatchers deviously misrepresent the locations of their seaside nests. Out in the rippling tide a rock-cod floats belly-up. The eagle flies directly and energetically, swoops down and picks it up.
Such is also the predatory life of an artist. One watches for the height of the action, the telling event, the nuanced moment, and the potential kill. People-watching, scene-finding or just looking for nature’s designs, something tips you off. Often little understood from a distance, the artist’s job is to home in, investigate and synthesize. “There’s something there,” the artist says, often without knowing just what will come of it. This is a learned skill and a way of life. Properly exploited, it’s why we’re so highly rewarded.
Valuable stuff can happen. One is “style opportunity” — things you just know you can inflict your style on — the lens through which you see and interpret the world. Another is the chance encounter that can breed a new direction. For me, this often comes as a surprise in areas of otherwise slim pickings. When hunting with a camera, it’s important to overshoot from different angles, particularly around the hot spots. Plein air hot spots need also to be canvassed for second-generation motifs that might be reconstituted at a later date. Nothing beats taking the time for a full stop — what I call the “spiritual pause” — time enough for the creative viewer and the creative viewfinder to do their job. It sounds nuts, but I find that writing down potential titles, no matter how ordinary, goes half way to making the paintings: Mt. Churchill from Malaspina Strait. Then there’s the “idea list” to jog the memory back in the studio. I prefer to compose these like brief haiku. It’s a minor literary habit that enriches the looker whether you use the ideas or not. “Incursions and abstract weathering of voluptuous sandstone at water’s edge.” “Patterning of a white clam-midden against black sand among shining beach boulders.” “An all-seeing eagle minding his business and waiting patiently until we’re outta here.”
PS: “A heightened sense of the observation of nature is one of the chief delights that have come to me through trying to paint.” (Winston Churchill)
Esoterica: I’ve been appointed “Artist of the Year” by the American Bald Eagle Foundation. I’m donating a large painting and its rights. Along the estuary of the Chilkat River near Haines, Alaska, on November 9th to 13th, 2005, several hundred birdwatchers will be watching several thousand eagles. It’s the biggest eagle jamboree in the world. I’ll be watching the birds too, and watching the birdwatchers watching the birds, and I’ll be watching my painting while the birdwatchers watch me. You can get information on this event here.
Part of a splendid thing
by Leonard Niles, Lincolnshire, England
I could have just painted that scene of the swooping eagle right there and then. Having the ability to execute such a painting from a brief vision is surely what we are all about. We all have this deep sense of wonder that arose in our childhood and has dominated our lives. This is what makes us all very special people, no matter what our level of pictorial interpretation. The Muses have been good to us. I study the diversity of paintings that are displayed twice a week in the clickbacks. I see no divisions between painters — we are all one. Our opinions may differ, but if you look deeply into the paintings you will see the influences and echoes of all the greats who have gone before. Whether or not my paintings are around in years to come, really has no relevance. What matters is that I was once a part of this splendid thing that will go on regardless, as long as there are eyes that see.
Moments of clarity
by Mary Lapos, Danville, PA, USA
I am acutely aware of “it” — that stutter in your otherwise smoothly flowing vision when your inner eye “sees” it. Then there’s the extra nanosecond of an image imprinting itself in your mind’s eye. You suddenly are aware that the darks and the lights, the lines of the horizon or trees suddenly make perfect sense, as if they were just waiting there all along, suspended in perfection, and you recognize and appreciate that beauty.
I only wish that those moments of inspiration would occur more often. Perhaps they will if only I embrace my surroundings and openly learn to permit those little electric moments to surface. I do know that when those moments occur, there’s nothing that can stand between that moment and a great painting. Sometimes I think that the real gift that artists are given is not the technical skills that are learned and honed, but those moments of clarity when we connect with something only we are allowed to see. That ability to truly see, to look at this earth as a painting waiting to be born through our fingers is what separates us artists from the rest of humanity.
by Ann Flaherty, Sanford, NC, USA
I love your tributes to the world around us. A few years ago, I saw a photograph of eagles in Alaska, waiting for the fish to come in. What haunted me was the favorite U.S. symbol, sitting on the cliffs waiting for the world to come to it. Kind of like our pre-9/11 lives. My how aggressive we have become! At the bottom of my quilt are three stars to remember the three children we had serving overseas at the time I made it.
by Dan Gray, BC, Canada
My wife, Sandra, has been monitoring 70+ eagle territories between Deep Bay and Nanoose Bay on the East Coast of Vancouver Island, BC, Canada, for the last 10 years. This year we are going to be watching 40 active nests, and I intend to be painting while she is observing. Generally, there are eagle trees in nearly all of my seascapes. I attached a pastel of mine, that shows the Columbia Beach nest tree (nest can be seen above tractor). It depicts an all too real reality that these eagles must face. The common story is that most of these territories are under threat of development. They destroy these non-renewable sanctuaries and homes, and then they name the abominations ‘Eagle-ridge,’ ‘Eagle close’ or ‘Eagle retreat,’ with minimal regard for the birds or the trees that have been wiped out.
Ideas from a random world
by Stama’tis, Cherry Hill, NJ, USA
I have embraced my calling to become an abstractionist. I get ideas and inspiration from words that I have chosen from my dictionary, song lyrics that strike me, symbols and words from different languages. Of course television offers ideas, as well as random thoughts, ideas and dreams that suddenly pop into my head. These methods of writing down what the world offers me in the way of inspiration I find useful to getting started on a project.
Painting with words
by Grace Cowling, Grimsby, Ontario, Canada
My husband and I were bride and groom in a logging camp on Vancouver Island. The notion of ‘painting with words’ fascinates me. I usually jot words down while a painting is in the works. It often invites and causes a title to surface. Then the work is ready to go out there and speak.
Creativity in government agencies
by Mary-Ellen Smith, Battle Creek, MI, USA
I am a writer working for the government. Creativity is a tough thing to keep alive in such an environment. It would be a large stretch to say what I write about is ‘creative.’ Yet, it is, in its own way. Basically I ‘translate’ government jargon into plain English so the workforce can hopefully have an easier time to understand our agency’s change initiatives. Your writing and the range of input from others definitely helps because it has opened a door into a much wider world for me. This brave new vision offers me a balance that was previously missing from my life.
A feeling of grace
by Linda Saccoccio, California, USA
A deer welcomed me to the retreat
A bear startled me to humility
My soul blessed me with the mystery
The inspiration for this haiku came from your recent letter, ‘Eagle eye’. It speaks about the past week I spent in Three Rivers, CA, USA and the National Sequoia Forest. During that time I participated in a Siddha Yoga Family Retreat. Since eagles are one of my totems, I felt motivated to share a view of my experience.
by Richard J. Belshaw, Halton Hills, ON, Canada
Each drop’s splash seen from the window up on high
The edge of the wind wafts past in wave fronts of rain
Wind in the long grass, flowing, alternating shades of green
Sand collapsing to consume itself, or so it seems
Water coursing, etching patterns never to be seen
Dust devils coalescing, dancing, darting, dispersing
Fire shifting, shining, reaching for the sky
From the window, isolated, protected
by Beverley Peden, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
I have noticed an increased number of mentions about pricing artwork by a measured amount (inches, feet, cm, etc.). To save us valuable time, there is a program called ‘Working Artist’ that can be extremely useful. It catalogues, gives fields for providence, pricing according to media and size, prints price lists, consignment lists and inventory sheets, and automatically does the work for you. It prints invoices, has fields for inserting your own logo for letterhead, and tracks work, creates mailing lists from those you sell to. It is really an incredible and invaluable tool.
(RG note) Thanks Beverley. You can find Working artist here.
by Judy Lenzin, Switzerland
As a quilt artist I’ve always felt slightly off-beat in my way of expression. Add into that, I’m living in Switzerland, where quilts and crafts in general are not what they are in the USA. This makes for lone-wolf feelings. What would we do without our Internet connections? We are now not alone. It has been my tether over the past years, both in buying great fabrics and in seeing what’s happening out there. However, a balance must be found, and often I find myself spending too much time looking at other people’s work, when I’d rather be sewing!
To add some spice to my life, I also make evening bags. They are ideally silky, velvety and very elaborate with embroidery and beading that tends to remind people of that crazy quilt tradition.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2005.