Category Archives: Taking Flight

Playing with Plexiglass (and rice paper)

Rice paper Trio on Plexi Glass with Artscape Rice Paperproviding the frosted look (and UV protection)

Rice paper Trio on 8 x 8 Plexi Glass with Artscape Rice Paper providing the frosted look (and UV protection)

Rice paper pair on plexiglass

Rice paper pair on 8 x 8 clear plexiglass

Autumn Jester - rice paper bird
Autumn Jester – rice paper bird (no plexiglass)

Pink and Green Fairy Bird?

Pink and Green Fairy Bird? (no plexiglass)

Simple things amuse simple minds.

Creating rice paper birds fills me with a quiet joy and delight. In a sense they are all the same bird, although they vary slightly in size and shape and are all the colours of the rainbow. Holding a piece of pink rice paper to the sunlight with a piece of green behind it and seeing how it looks in different lights thrills me. It is one thing to glue pieces of translucent paper together on a table; it is an entirely different thing to hold these same pieces of paper up to the window and see how they are completely transformed by light. As I create a rice paper birds, it is akin to having a conversation with light – I cut, I hold up to the light, maybe I glue, maybe I try another shade. For this reason, it takes about 45 minutes, give or take, to create a rice paper bird. I feel as though I could cut and glue and construct these little creatures for a very long time.

Larks at Christie Lake

Larks at Christie Lake

Since I am clearly hooked on creating rice paper birds, I have to ask how to move such birds into the world? While it is true that a handful of people have one or two such birds flying in their windows, I want to create sky-fulls of them. I like putting them together on a window, a branch, a translucent screen  and creating a pattern of movement. Flocks, families, communities of birds winging their way to an imagined sky. This led to “An Exultation of Larks” created last spring. I like seeing how they look in different venues, during different seasons, in the mornings or the afternoons or on the light of a sombre day.

This fall, I have purchased a quantity of plexiglass, cut in a whole variety of sizes as well as some glue that works well with plexi-glass (but has toxic vapours). Above you can see my first two experiments, done on 8 x 8 pieces of plexiglass. I will try sealing them with glue at the edges. (Up until now, I have been using screws.) I prefer to have no frame around the birds as I like the illusion that they can fly off into the sky. However, I also hope to experiment with real glass, circles, and thin copper or silver frames with help from a local stained glass artist.

I am currently working with a long rectangular piece measuring 28″ x 8″ and loving the challenge.


Taking Flight #4

I think I remember hearing the sound of the loon  during the night as a small girl, and thrilling to it, rather than being scared. That might just as well just be a story I made up! It matches the feeling I have about loons – like many others I have felt a special kinship with loons for as long as I can remember.

My childhood memories of Christie Lake are interwoven with memories of encounters with loons, and with their cries, their keening and their laughter present throughout the day, but most especially at night. A vivid and unforgettable memory is watching a loon swim under our canoe.

The summer I was 17, I took part in the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources Junior Ranger Program. Along with twenty three other 17 year olds from all across Ontario, I went to McConnell Lake, somewhere outside of North Bay. I drank it all in – from steel toed working boots, to blueberries in an abundance I could not have imagined, to being away from home, to the friendships formed…and especially to a wilder lake than I had ever know…McConnell Lake  was home to somewhere between 24 and 30 loons. I perfected my loon call, and felt that I could commune with a particular lone loon. I remember being punished one morning during calisthenics because the loons were dancing in some kind of formation – and I left (oh horror!) our exercise routine to go and watch them. The young women who were supervising us were barely older than us, and knew that their authority was held by a very frayed thread indeed!

"Deep Diver"- Loon Photo by C. Westmoreland

“Deep Diver”- Loon
Photo by C. Westmoreland

All of this has come to mind for a few reasons. There are two families of loons at this end of the lake this summer. I have had some wonderful conversations at the Perth Farmer’s Market with people who see “Deep Diver” and want to share their own stories and love of loons. When my friend Mary was visiting, I  looked for and found a board I painted as a teenager with loons on it.

Much like my entry in Taking Flight #2 , which shows another sketch of  a loon diving, it reminds me just how formative my growing up years are in relation to creating art (and much else).

Loon Board , c1977

Loon Board , c1977

Detatl- Loon Board

Detatl- Loon Board

Detail- loon borad with Ottawa Point, Christie lake in the background

Detail- loon borad with Ottawa Point, Christie lake in the background

Last Saturday, at the Perth Farmer’s Market, I had a wonderful conversation with a woman spending time with her family at a nearby lake. One of her children made a peeping sound, and a young loon swam right for him on shore. Waters had been stormy so the loon was bedraggled and clearly tuckered out, so my friend was called and she cradled the loon in her arms for a while keeping it warm and offering some rest. For all of this time, no parent loons were in sight. As the small loon revived, they spotted a pair of loons out on the lake and decided to paddle her/him out. My friend sat in the canoe holding the baby in her lap. As they got closer to the adult loons, she put the baby into the water. The baby peeped…the adults did not hear. The adults peeped – the baby hightailed over to the parents and many loon sounds were heard. She hopes all is well with this reunited family.

Another group came by the same Market Day with a woman visiting from the States – from a place where there are no loons. Every time she saw a loon, she commented on the “duck” up ahead. The people she was with were quick to correct her – “Evvie”, they would say when she was looking at “Deep Diver,” “That is not a duck, it is a loon.” As Canadians, we are not usually so precise about bird nomenclature! Some of us call goldfinches canaries, for example. But for those of us lucky enough to spend time in Shield Country, for those of us lucky enough to share waters  with the common loon, it is vital to know the difference between a loon and a duck.

In May 2013, I had an art show entitled “Taking Flight – Exploring Birds and Oher Flying Creatures in the Art of Sue Bland”. I continue to want to explore the theme of birds, and of flight in my life. Previous posts are Taking Flight #1, Taking Flight #2, Taking Flight #3 and some reflections on the show.

Taking Flight – The Show

My art show, entitled “Taking Flight: An Exploration of Birds and Other Flying Creatures in the Art of Sue Bland” took place Mother’s Day Weekend (May 11 and 12, 2013) in Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan.

I learned that to mount an art show – and especially one called “Taking Flight”, I had to stay pretty darn grounded! It was definitely hard work, and absolutely full of joy for me. I was so thrilled that so many of all ages chose to hang around, drink some tea and make some beautiful art. Many beautiful rice paper birds, butterflies, snakes and pictures were created by folks from age 3 to age 88! Numerous  people helped me but I would especially like to thank the volunteers at the Qu’Appelle Valley Centre of the Arts, and my family, especially Shane and Jessie and Marina.

On Sunday morning, the first hour was very quiet, so I sat in the gallery, listened to music and looked around. Some of the art in the room comes from 25 years ago, and I have never seen my art at all in one place before. I could see that as well as a fascination with birds and other flying creatures, there is both movement and colour in my art which has remained consistent over the years. I had never noticed this before. I have not yet finished my explorations of “Taking Flight” in the form of blog posts, but I hope to. (See former posts Taking Flight 1, 2 and 3). The art show perhaps marked a starting point for further exploration of the flight theme.

I have chosen 15 photos for this post – you can see the entire collection in Past PLAYshops, Shows and Sales. Most of the  photos are courtesy of Susan Sorenson and Cherie Westmoreland. I thank them both.


The Qu'Appelle Valley Centre of the Arts was once a school

The Qu’Appelle Valley Centre of the Arts was once a school

Flowers from Mary

Flowers from Mary, Screen behind made by Justin

"An Exultation of Larks" Rice Paper on plexi-glass

“An Exultation of Larks”
Rice Paper on plexi-glass

Image 71

Tree of Birds - wax crayons, watercolour paint, 1991

Tree of Birds – wax crayons, watercolour paint, 1991

"Bird Woman" - Diana's Magic Lamp, 1 half a globe, a velvet hat, a heart, two rolls of paper, rice paper birds
“Bird Woman” – Diana’s Magic Lamp, half a globe, a velvet hat, a heart, two rolls of paper, rice paper birds

Image 90

Janaye and Natalie

Janaye and Natalie

Image 33

Ciane, Jared and boys

Ciane, Jared and boys

Image 73

L to R- Print- Earth Dances with Sky Where are You Now? Collage- Earth dances with Sky Collage- Autumn Flight Collage- Sunrise Ceremony

L to R-
Print- Earth Dances with Sky
Where are You Now?
Collage- Earth dances with Sky
Collage- Autumn Flight
Collage- Sunrise Ceremony

Part of the Fairy Section 2 Star fairies, and 1 Gypsy fairy

Part of the Fairy Section
2 Star fairies, and 1 Undaunted fairy



Gorgeous butterfly created by Chrysa who said "I am not creative!" WHAT???

Gorgeous butterfly created by Chrysa who said “I am not creative!” WHAT???

Some of the beautiful art created during "Taking Flight"

Some of the beautiful art created during “Taking Flight”




Taking Flight 2

This is the second post in a series which is focussed on my upcoming art show entitled “Taking Flight”.

My first memory of birds comes from the night sounds I heard as a young child at our family cottage near Christie Lake. In those days, we heard the whippoorwills at night. We seldom hear whippoorwills anymore but recently one spring at the cottage, I heard them again and a flood of memories and sensations returned with their soft “whippoorwill, whippoorwill”. We still hear crows in the very early morning at the lake, and many other places, including here at the farm. I love crows. A few years ago when I learned that crows distinguish between the people who live near them (meaning that they can tell the difference between my husband and I), I tried to observe the crows more closely and see if I could discern differences between them. I have had no success yet, and so continue, enjoying the opportunity to observe the crows who raise a brood of young on the farm much more closely.

Deep Diver, Collage and Watercolour. Photo by Cherie Westmoreland

Deep Diver, Collage and Watercolour.
Photo by Cherie Westmoreland

I think I remember the first time I woke at night to hear the loons singing. As I recall, I wasn’t scared at all. In fact, something deep within me thrilled to that call. It felt ancient, and oddly, it felt familiar.  Had I seen a loon before I heard the loon’s song? Probably, but in my memory, sound came first. From an early age, I felt a deep bond with loons, as so many of us do. A huge childhood thrill for me was taking all my friends to the Museum in Ottawa to watch the NFB film The Loon’s Necklace for my 10th birthday.

When I was  a teenager, working in Northern Ontario, I got to know loons even better. As a Junior Ranger at McConnell Lake near North Bay where there were 24 nesting pairs of loons, I got in big trouble one day for leaving our morning calisthenics to watch the loons dance on the lake. There was one loon I felt a special bond with – when I called, that loon would swim very close. Loons figured prominently in the art I created at that time. I never forgot the loon I saw swim under the canoe. I wondered if I could somehow express how I felt about seeing that loon under the water. I recently pulled out a stack of art created when I was a teen, and note the similarities between this watercolour (in browns below) and what I created decades later using collage and watercolour (Deep Diver). How I see it now : that piece has been inside me for a long time and was waiting for the right time to come out!

Study of loon diving done when I was 17...note similarity with "Deep Diver"

Study of loon diving done when I was 17…note similarity with “Deep Diver”

Deep Diver” is the first in a series entitled “Creatures I swim with”. When at Christie Lake, my favourite thing is to rise early, make a cup of coffee and head down to the beach for my morning swim. I sit quietly sipping coffee, taking in the feel of the day. The small bay I swim in is populated by loons, grebes, mergansers, turtles, otters, muskrat, the occasional water snake, turkey vultures and osprey, dragonflies, minnows…. the list could go on and on. I feel grateful to share the water with these creatures and to learn something about their daily routes and habits. So far, I have completed 3 pieces (Loon, Turtle and WaterSnake) in something like 4 years… a slow process indeed. It seems fitting that the loon is the first of these creatures. Loons are not the greatest fliers…in fact, sometimes they get marooned on lakes in the fall because they need a long runway and the ice has hemmed them in. But their diving and swimming is incredible…a kind of flight in a dreamy underwater world of deep greens and blues, of mystery. Like the loons, I love to dive deep in the waters.