For a few years now I've been working on two series of drawings as my main area of interest. The Birds and Plants series in ink and watercolour pencil, and a series of black and white drawings that incorporate images of birds, plants, self portraits and just portraits of people I know.
The former are made with nib pen and black acrylic ink then coloured in with watercolour pencil on matte mylar.Expanses of white space play with the perception of depth and space while the graphic quality of the line suggests flattened illustration.
The latter are drawn with nib pen and ink, or with artist pens. They sometimes incorporate the human as part of nature and form an unruly pattern in black and white. These need to be looked at closely to see the imagery that is there.
"Birds are the last best connection to a world that is otherwise receding” Jonathan Franzen.
I spend a lot of time outdoors. I observe the toughness and the delicacy of birds and plants. Drawing them expresses my feeling of connection to nature. Nature that I see under threat. I see what is happening to the plants and to the birds because of spraying, deforestation, development and the cultivation of plants.
Now you can see locally any flower or other plant from almost anywhere on earth. Like the birds they migrate but in the hands of humans in the Anthropocene. They are often cultivated to within an inch of what they once were, losing their smell, gaining colours that never were. Nurtured by profit.
In the drawings there is an unnatural juxtaposition of the animals and the flowers that are not likely to be seen all in one place nor at one time. The human hand, mine, bringing them together.
The flowers are drawn from life, from photos I've taken myself, and sometimes from social media. In the winter there are no flowers growing, nobody is posting flowers and I turn to idealized drawings of flowers in botanical books. Many of these flowers no longer exist, lost to us like so many birds.
I draw the plants and flowers that call out to me, I choose them for their line, colour and how they work as drawings with the birds. There will be something in the droop of the plant, the spring of the stem, the attitude of the flower that feels exactly right.
The birds are always birds that I know, that inhabit my world, drawn from photographs.
This is a photo of my studio with the first of a series of watercolours that evolved from my almost daily drawings of plants in the drought this summer (see last post). As I walked on trails and in parks I began to notice so many young trees trying to survive. The colours of the drought are beautiful; gold, burnished reds, warm browns and still some green hanging on. They drew me in even as they felt sad.
As I worked on these paintings I tried to let go of my preconceived idea of how they should look and let the feeling of the wet colour dictate next steps as the fluidity of the watercolour took over the marks made by my brush.
In the end I am uncomfortable with these paintings. Are they too pretty in the face of the sadness of all the suffering life as our climate swings from one extreme to another?
Here is the last painting I made.
In Cottonwood Canyon campsite in the Coast Mountains of BC I made the first drawings in this series on a camping trip meant to last a month but cut short by the heat wave and its effects. The infamous heat dome of the summer or 2021 moved over us and meant seeking shade for three hours a day away from the hot camper van before we decided we had to leave.
The small plants were starting to suffer. Sitting still in the heat I drew them while they were still green and full of life. But fires encroached and news came of floods from fast melting snow in the region. These photographs may end up in a book.
Drawing in the reeds
I return home where the heat continues throughout the summer. Trees turn brown, large swaths of grass are drought stricken yellow. Some green hangs on, the most hardy will revive, the most fragile are dying. I continue my drawings.
Drawing in the park
I go out every day, sometimes to a local park or community garden, sometimes further away and draw. I photograph the drawings where they are made. Shadows creep in as the sun lowers in the sky.
Drawing in the dry garden
Summer is coming to a close now, all of a sudden it is cold and wet. There is more green in the damaged grass and plants. This series may be coming to a close, or it may transform. I've posted many of these drawings on Instagram. Click the icon at the bottom of the page to see them.
Drawing in the thistles