On summer holiday last year, we stayed at a friend’s place on Bowen Island, B.C. on the west coast of Canada. It’s a small, magical island, just off the coast of North Vancouver, in Howe Sound. When I say small, I mean small: Bowen Island is 6 kilometers wide by 12 kilometers long.
That is certainly part of its charm, along with the fact that it has scores of large and small beaches with great swimming and fabulous wildlife. While we relaxed on one beach near our house for the week, a gorgeous heron flew nearby and landed on an abandoned dock.
I was thrilled to see this bird — such an icon of the West Coast. This one stood for a long time, feathers blowing in the wind, as if posing. Did he know I longed for a shot just like this?
Fast forward almost a year later, when I was in my favorite paper store in Banff (Alberta) Gingko & Ink Atelier. I was taking a journal-making class, and saw a number of sheets of Japanese tissue paper gorgeously decorated with writing. Although I didn’t use it in my journal, I bought some knowing there was a print in my future, using this paper.
Back in studio, with the paper laid out on my table, I saw that Bowen Island heron from a summer ago entwined somehow with this paper. I set to work, sketching my idea.
I referenced several photos of the heron, including some where he was standing more upright, and stretching his neck. I drew the heron as a compilations of these photos on my tissue paper, transferred it to my block, and began to carve the image.
At first I thought I would print directly on the Japanese paper, but a test print showed that the delicate writing of the paper was too busy for the background of the print. So, I printed the heron on white paper, and decided to fix the print to the paper later on.
Seeing the dark blue prints, I also wanted to add a splash of color. I remembered I had a wonderful Asian name seal that I purchased long ago at the Granville Island Market in Vancouver. I loved the little seal — a work of art in itself — created by an artist who carves into stone. Names seals were used at one time in lieu of a signature, but I just loved the beautiful carving, and had never used it. Here was my chance! Not only is the bottom carved with my name, but it is also topped with a carved Tiger, the Chinese year I was born in.
Once these little seals were printed and dried, I would attach them to the corner of the blue heron print. The next thing to do was trim the sheets of Japanese paper into smaller pages, and that’s when the magical story of this print really got going.
Above is the plan for the print. I knew, though, that the paper had a right-way up, and I wanted to make sure I presented it correctly in my final print. I didn’t speak Japanese, so I turned to a friend I knew who did. She is an employee at the Banff Whyte Museum who is always so sweet, and who has often told me about her family back home in Japan, and particularly her mother who was also an artist.
The next visit time I was at the Museum shop, I brought the paper with me, and luckily she was there. I asked if she would help me by reading the sheets of paper I had cut up, and she happily agreed. She stood in the shop, and a flood of memories came back. She told me that the writing was not modern, and that it was the type she learned when she was a young girl in school in Japan. She recalled practicing the lettering with the traditional brush and ink, and thought it wasn’t even being taught any more.
She started to read, and was silent for about a minute. She exclaimed that the paper was so lovely, and then paused to read again. I wondered if it was a story or just writing that was decorative. She smiled, and said, “Oh yes! It’s a beautiful story! It’s all about nature, the water … and the shimmering ocean!”
It was one of those amazing moments, and I got the chills. I hadn’t told her anything about my plans for the paper, or the print based on a photo I took of the heron next to the ocean! Not only that, but Vancouver’s coast is on the Pacific Ocean, that is shared with Japan! I love it when intuitive connections are made through art (and friends).
With all my pages turned up the right way, thanks to my friend, I went back to my art studio with a bounce in my step and created the series of 20 prints called “Heron’s Story”. Each page of the story is a different segment, so each print is unique.
The heron — and our summer vacation — is a beautiful memory, and I am thankful for the first step that was presented to me when that inspirational bird flew into my world. That bird had no idea the connections he had started, and the story he would eventually tell. Being stately and beautiful was enough.
If you love birds like I do, may I recommend two stunning blogs from photographers I follow? Janthina Images and Serenity Spell both offer an amazing array of photos from Florida’s wild places — including lots of stunning photos of herons.