The Art of Bird Watching

A sprawling landscape of trees and snow-covered mountains pours in through the large living room windows. As the sun shines on the scenic view, Heidi Hehn tells stories of animals that have crept out of the forest setting and into her backyard.

Having this setting at her doorstep couldn’t be more fitting for Hehn. Wildlife is not just a passion; it is an obvious element of her artistic creations.

“I needed a challenge. I’d tried human beings, I’d tried landscapes and I was bored a little bit. And I wanted the challenge of wildlife,” she says. “For me that was the hardest thing there was to paint and it took me a few years to learn to do it properly.”

Initially Hehn largely worked with watercolours, but easily branched out to acrylics and oils in order to portray stories of the environment on canvas.

The walls of her home are devoted to her artwork, which feature colourful glimpses of nature she’s been acquainted with over the years. The paintings interpret textures of the great outdoors and the life that dwells within the atmosphere.

But her adoration of the subject matter has never been strictly artistic.

“I thought that if I could do paintings that were attractive to people, even maybe Disney-like, that they would become more appreciative of wildlife and more interested in protecting it instead of being afraid of it,” she explains.

Hehn wants people to understand that animals have their own proper society and are intelligent creatures.

“Even just having the birds in this yard that I see, the things that go on between them and the generations that I watch growing up in the yard and how different they all are,” she says. “They all have personalities and they all make decisions and they all have choices to make.”

Bird watching is a regular activity for Hehn and her exhibit, Bird Wild at Arts Underground, allows her to zero in on that hobby.

A stack of paintings for the show sits in the living room, propped up against the wall. Hehn gently flips through the canvases, reminiscing about the way one bird looked and another sounded – it’s like watching a slide show of her adventures. Each painting depicts an exotic destination she has visited and the winged creatures she witnessed there.

The exhibit includes pigeons in Rome and a toucan in Costa Rica, majestic black swans in Australia and pelicans in the Caribbean. There are a few Yukon pieces as well, although Hehn says the show is an opportunity to broaden her subject matter.

“I was at a point where I’d painted the Yukon for so long that I needed to start painting other things. I felt I wanted to paint other things and branch out.”

Beyond branching out geographically, Hehn is also expanding her artistic expression for the show by including sculptures. Although she has been working with the style for a few years, it isn’t something she has widely exhibited.

Hehn says she enjoys exploring sculpture, but her heart lies with the vivid expression of painting.

“I thought I would actually leave painting and move to sculpture, but in the last few months getting ready for the show, it’s still the painting I go back to because I want the colours too.”

Bird Wild will be on display at Arts Underground from March 28 to April 23.

PHOTO: MORGAN WHIBLEY [email protected]

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