Posted by: bluelanternstudio | August 31, 2010

Seabird art commission

This is a story of how you just never know what’s around the corner.

Last fall a friend of mine suggested I get in touch with the organizers of the 1st World Seabird Conference, which is happening next week in Victoria BC (very close to where I live in Vancouver). This friend thought that my paintings, which deal with marine ecosystems under threat from pollution and climate change, would be a good fit for the conference. Maybe there would be a way to incorporate some art into the conference.

Fast forward to June 2010. I’m now curating an exhibition of seven artists’ work ranging from paintings to textiles and photography. The artists are all from the west coast—some from Vancouver Island, others from Vancouver, Oregon and California. The exhibition will be part of the conference (which has more than 800 delegates registered from 40 countries) and open to the public. I’m juggling organizing this show with creating work for a solo show of my collages which opens at the same time as the conference, as well as my writing and editing work. I have no time to create any seabird related artwork of my own for the conference exhibition. Sigh.

Fast forward to three weeks before the conference. My other commitments are quieting down and I’m starting to think it may be possible for me to create some new work in time for the conference after all. The phone rings. It’s Marischal De Armond, from the management company that’s running the conference logistics. He’s wondering if I’d be interested in being commissioned to create the gifts to be given to all the conference organizers: the 50+ people who have participated in committees over the past few years to bring the idea of the conference into reality. Of course I said yes!

Fast forward again. Over the past few weeks, I’ve put together a few ideas for the conference Chair to think about. We focused on me creating a linocut print that could be easily matted and framed, to be hung on the wall in people’s offices or homes.

My first idea incorporated a map of the ocean as the background for the linocut:

Option 1: Cormorant, Murre, and Gannet

My second idea showed a murre diving into the ocean near an abandoned fishing net (a serious hazard for seabirds):

Diving murre

As our discussions progressed, we focused on two birds that link the oceans: the Arctic Tern, which migrates north/south, and the Sooty Shearwater, which migrates east/west from New Zealand to the northern west coast of North America. Option 3 shows the birds with a representation of their flight patterns:

Arctic Tern and Sooty Shearwater flying

Option 4 shows the same birds facing each other. The circle represents a map of the world or maybe a sun.

Arctic Tern and Sooty Shearwater Face-off

We finally decided on a combination of the last two, with the silhouettes against a map. 

Tern and Shearwater flying all over the map

I then decided to try creating a two-coloured linocut, with one colour being a print of the globe and the other with the birds. I sketched it out:

Sketch showing the globe

Then I created a trial print:

Trial print of the birds flying around the globe

At this point it became clear that the Arctic Tern (the bird on top) was too large in relation to the Shearwater, and that the Shearwater looked like it was eating a sandwich (Australia). So, I made some adjustments:

Arctic Tern and Sooty Shearwater linocut print

Today this is where things stand. Everyone is happy with the print and now my job is to clean it up and then print and frame all the gifts. I’m really happy with how smoothly and quickly the process has gone so far. Wish me luck on getting it all done by next week!  

And if you’re in Victoria BC next week, please stop by the ‘Birds at Sea’ art exhibition at the Victoria Conference Centre. I’d love to say ‘hi’ in person and give you a tour of the amazing art on display (from all the other artists!).


  1. Love to see the process…very interesting….always a challenge when working for someone else but usually ends up being new inspiration! Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks Valerie. Yes, it was a bit of back and forth, but I’m really happy with the end product. Definitely something I’d like to do again — both in terms of commissions and also in terms of creating limited edition two colour prints.

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