Mark of the Thunderbird

I always thought that artists were supposed to be disciplined; meticulous in the planning, drawing, and drafting before ever putting canvas to easel. When I toured museums in Europe, I saw rooms filled with studies for final pieces.  Man, that’s tough for me. I try, and sometimes – like with Bunny for William, I do get some studies done first, but as a rule once I’m inspired to make thoughts visual, I just begin.

But knowing what you want to say and then saying it with paint are two very different animals indeed.

It started with an idea. Indigenous legends tell us about the Mark of the Thunderbird. When I’m out in the bush, those marks are everywhere, they taunt almost, I see them but I don’t really see them unless I look.

Then it got tricky – when you don’t have meticulously worked out plans, drawings, palettes, yada yada, you have to rely on your intuition. The final piece was dancing around in my head and I had to trust myself to get it out there.

The colours I was inspired to use don’t really jive with my idea of the legend. Laying down the first colours, I was worried that I was going in the wrong direction. The legend seems pretty dark and these colours, in contrast, are vivid and fresh.

The really fun part happened when movement came into play through linear mark making. There’s also a depth that comes through abstraction. The pushing and pulling of trees that are there – or aren’t there – adds a kind of mystery while giving the eye a place to rest.


And then I grabbed the knife.

When I was in art school a hundred years ago, I loved painting with a knife. The textures and highlights that knife work offers seem appropriate juxtaposed against the calm watercolour-like background.


Fast Forward to the finished piece.  Mark of the Thunderbird?  Everywhere.  But while I was guiding this piece I knew that I wasn’t yet finished with the whole idea. Stay tuned!


Mark of the Thunderbird

Bunny for William


This process was pretty standard and it flowed easily – even though a few months passed between the first thoughts and the final product.

It started with the bunny.  There are white tailed jackrabbits all over our neighbourhood.  I see them in the day sometimes, but mostly they come out at night.  In the winter, when the streets are covered in hard snow, they sit on the road under the streetlights. They are almost invisible, white on white, but if you wait they’ll give themselves away. Usually there are 4 or 5 bunnies out there in the night.

That night, as I was watching the moon outside my window, I noticed there was only one bunny.  He was standing tall on the road, looking and listening, ears twitching.

I thought he seemed lonely.  But not really lonely.

And moved on to William.  While I was watching the bunny and the moon, I was thinking of the new baby in our family.  I thought about how that same moon was probably shining on William just the same way it was shining on the bunny, and on me.

In the morning I made a rough little sketch.

Putting the first thoughts on paper


I left that sketch for a while, and when I did come back to it I worked it out first in really muted watercolours.  I wasn’t too focused on anything technical, I just wanted to explore where that sketch might go.  I was pretty happy with the layout and I thought maybe it would be a cute birthday card or something so I played around with the values a bit in the second sketch and then I left it again.

I liked it okay, but I got stuck on that birthday card idea and it wasn’t sitting right with me.

Acrylics felt better.  The colour palette was fun and I started smooshing paint around the canvas.  I used a glazing medium with my paints which results in a translucent effect that I enjoyed especially with the moon thing going on.

Fast Forward!  All of a sudden it starts to work itself out.  This is where the fun starts, when the ugly part is resolved and I can’t wait to get back to my studio.  The timing was so perfect for this painting, I knew it was “For Will” and I knew it was for William for his first Christmas.

Bunny & Moon
For Will
























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