The birds and the painter

I am an artistic person I love to sing and paint. I consider myself to be an impressionistic painter. First off, I should tell you the definition of Impressionism.” It is described as “a style or movement in painting originating in France in the 1860s, characterized by a concern with depicting the visual impression of the moment, especially in terms of the shifting effect of light and colour. An artistic style that seeks to capture a feeling or experience rather than to achieve accurate depiction.”

I have always been a fan of the impressionist painter Claude Monet. In fact he is my favourite painter.  I was inspired to start painting birds after a trip to his home in Giverny, France with my sister. This is the home where he painted his famous Water Lilies.The garden was absolutely beautiful, just as I pictured it would be from his paintings. He really painted with such honesty in his work there was no embellishment to the real world. He really made his paintings come to life for me. There were birds singing all throughout the garden and pond. Since I speak French I was able to speak with some of the local gardeners there, who told me a bit about the birds that visit the garden and the plants they put in with such love, just as Monet had done; which enhanced the experience. Even with all the tourists there I was able to find tranquillity and inspiration.

If you have never seen Monet's work, check out his new exhibit with a special focus on his Garden at Giverny paintings at the Vancouver Art Gallery on now HERE.  

My EU passport came in handy when I decided after 4 trips to the country I better stay for a few months. So I did and got inspired seeing beautiful places throughout the country and .a lot of time in art museums seeing originals and not replicas. Sitting in a cafe in Cannes or Paris. just people watching inspired me to no end. I did travel on to other European countries (13 in fact) getting more inspiration as I painted people, landscapes, country and city life. Hungary was one of the countries that inspired me so much, if only I could have understood the language a little more. I got so lost there especially on the trains too many times, luckily pointing worked for the most part. I would sit and be inspired by all the lights and architecture and then go back to the hotel to paint them. Italy and Greece were other sources of intense passion filled paintings where I used the influences of romance and good food and bella vita to inspire me. After this crazy worldwind I missed home, I thought I may stay in Europe for good at one point but there is nothing like Canada. I wanted a slower, more relaxed pace and I missed my friends, family and pets.

Since I was a young, I have always loved to paint and did art courses all the way up through high school. When I got near to graduation I told my parents I would like to go to Emily Carr University of Art but my parents baulked at that decision and said there is no money in art and that I should study science. So I did get my Bachelor of Science and no regrets there, it has served me well. I paint now whenever I want to relax and have free time. Paintings take me quite long to complete nowadays. There never seems to be enough time in the day. I tend to give all my paintings away as well, as I keep those moments that I paint in my head but there are a few special ones that I can’t let go of. Also, I have to be inspired to paint in some shape or form. Sometimes I will go out birding and have a special moment hand feeding the chickadees for example and will paint what I remember, or write a poem later about it and then paint the words from my page into an image. I used to paint a variety of things, including people and landscapes but now I don’t think I could be inspired to paint anything but birds. 

I love to photograph birds and photography is another expression and form of art. However, a painting allows me to be inspired by my subject externally but also allows me to create an original expression of what I see. While in photography, you are forced to replicate, no matter how creative you get. One thing I love about both mediums is that they allow you to see the object (in this case birds) from a different perspective.

I am a very musical person and love to sing and listen in particular to jazz music. I find that music influences and helps inspire my paintings, in my brush strokes and vibrant colours. Here is just a small sampling of what I listened to during the painting of each piece, that I will discuss in this article. Paintings take a long time, sometimes months to finish but here are some of the songs that I vividly remember playing during the process.

While I painted the piece titled "Love" I played Miles Davis's and Sarah Vaughan's "Goodnight my Love" and "In a Sentimental Mood" by Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, frequently. During the Whimbrel painting Nina Simone's "Just in Time" blared on repeat. Likewise, with the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Nina Simone's "Feeling Good" was often played. While painting the Pelicans in Saskatchewan I liked to listen to Louis Armstrong's "La Vie en Rose." The main soundtrack to The Geese work was Miles Davis’s and John Coltrane's "You're my everything.

When I lived in Saskatchewan, I was inspired by watching the American White Pelicans fish in the Saskatchewan River. One of my absolute favourite things after work would be to go down and watch them hunt fish at the weir. You could get very close to them and they were fun to watch, it was always exciting to see how and if they would successfully catch a fish in that fast moving, constantly swirling rush of water.

Here is a photo of my inspiration, so you get a picture of what I saw.

American White Pelican - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Well, one day while sitting with my friend in Qu'Appelle Valley in Saskatchewan. I was inspired by the beauty of the small colourful rolling hills and the pelicans and the peace surrounding us. How lucky we were to be in that spot at that time, it was just perfect. So I went home and began to paint a large 18x24 painting using ink and acrylic paint onto canvas which I nailed onto wood. It took me several weeks to finish. This was my first ever large bird painting and therefore will always be special to me. I gave it to my parents and it still hangs on their mantel. They couldn’t believe I painted it and said maybe I should of gone to Emily Carr after all. I think they believed in my ability then, which was nice to hear, since they really never embraced my love of art when I was younger. Whenever I am visiting with my parents, I love to look at that painting because it brings me back to that day in Saskatchewan. From time to time I do miss many aspects of the prairies, the pelicans and especially my special birding spots. I certainly miss going to Montana where I would go rock climbing with my university friends and paint in my down time. It is one of the few places that I painted outdoors "on scene."

Every day now I am inspired by special moments that I share with the ones I love. Or when I’m out birding and have a unique interaction with a bird.

Here is my most recent bird painting and my personal favourite called “Whimbrel in a California Sunset". I completed this 11 months after a very special winter trip to San Diego last year. This is an 18x24 done on wood using indian ink and acrylic paint.

The inspiration was a moment in the sunset in the waves of La Jolla, California. Ilya and I were together and we had our tripods and pants rolled up but the water was coming in quickly. We were searching for Wandering Tattlers and other shorebirds. Most people were leaving the rocky area in the other direction as the tide was coming in but we kept (maybe stupidly) walking further on, a few others did the same, so maybe stupidity likes company. We did end up finding a Tattler, Willet and a Black Phoebe who all posed nicely. The water was well up to our thighs now and rising. Soon the water would be past our tripods and hitting our expensive cameras and we would be soaked…..Then out of absolutely perfect golden light, like a mirage, this beautiful Whimbrel walks right towards us. We got incredible photos with this very tame bird. It was like he was meant just for us. We were soaking wet but were so happy. That was our moment and my inspiration. You just don’t forget days like that, especially when you share it with someone special.

Here is the photo that Ilya Povalyaev got of that special moment. As I said earlier, painting and photography allow us to see the bird from different perspectives.

Whimbrel in La Jolla - Photo: Ilya Povalyaev

In this Whimbrel painting, I tried to create the feeling of movement, as the bird lifted its leg, as it kept walking towards us. I painted it from the low point of view we had while crouched down in the sea, as the tide pulled out. The multi colours in the fine brush strokes of the breast and body of the bird were depicting the feather detail, movement and the beauty of the bird. The bright orange background is a very bold expression of the brilliant golden sunset and the happiness we experienced together. I feel that orange is the happiest colour. Plus, California has some of the best sunsets I've ever seen. You can see how the wood pattern bleeds through. This was the beach effect I was going for. It now immortalizes a magic moment we experienced, on our first big trip together and the start of many more trips to come.

This next painting was inspired by a deeply sad event. I won’t go into the details but someone incredibly special and bright was lost from this world. Because of her, my life was changed for the better. So I painted her immense beauty, her courage and her strength in the shape of a bird (an abstract Hermit Thrush because she loved them). The light and bright colours emanate her joy, her kindness, her pure heart and her love for those she loved. Everything she touched spread her love and joy. So you can see even the branches the bird sits on in the painting have changed colour because she touched them with love. This painting may seem chaotic with all the bright splashes of crazy colour and large brush strokes. However, they represent such intense, mad, generous, never ending and pure unadulterated love. This painting is for an irreplaceable person, gone far too soon but who will never be forgotten by those who knew and loved her. I hope that when they look at this painting, that I gave them, they will always remember that.

I call this painting “LOVE.” It was done directly onto an 18x24 piece of wood using oil and ink.

I love to go to Boundary Bay in Delta to watch shorebirds. One of my favourite shorebirds to see in the fall there is the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. This painting is an abstract version of the bird. I really went for more of the impressionistic style here. It in no way looks like a true to life or David Sibley field guide Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. I painted the feeling that the bird evoked in me and the flowing colours as movements of the bird. I painted the surrounding environment as alive and rich. I am always happy here and at peace, looking at the large shorebird flocks and walking among them with the sand between my toes. You never know what you will see on each visit, there is always something new to discover and a friendly face to see.

Impressionists, like to paint paintings with little detail and bold colours. That’s what I love to do and definitely did here. This painting was done with oil and ink straight onto wood. I gave this painting to someone who loves shorebirds very much and takes some incredible photos of them without ever flushing them. Hopefully, they can see the joy I had in seeing this bird and how beautiful it was to me. I hope that when they see their next Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, they will have as much joy as I did.

My younger sister got married two years ago and I didn’t want to give her anything off her registry because it was frankly all boring household and cooking items. I am sure she needed those much more than a painting though!. I am a sentimental person and if I give a gift I want it to have meaning behind it. So I began to figure out what I wanted to paint for her. My sister is not a birder but an avid hiker and does appreciate birds and from birding alongside me she knows the birds very well. Still I did not just want to paint her a bird, it wouldn’t be right for her and her new husband. He is not a birder at all and admits it in his own words that he barely knows how to tell the difference between a “seagull and a crow.” Anyway, he is a lovely gent nonetheless and I still had no idea what to paint them. I wanted to incorporate my love of birds in the painting somehow, if at all possible. So I went for a walk at Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park and sat at one of the benches. It was fall and there were falling leaves everywhere. I noticed how beautiful it was there with the ducks and geese and the water. As I was sitting there two Canada Geese began to nuzzle each other. I got up from my seat backed up quite a ways and took a mental note of the scene. I noted the bench (which I later omitted - an empty bench isn’t too romantic), the lagoon, the trees, the path near the tennis courts and the two geese, who were obviously in love. That was it! That was my inspiration and the moment I needed. I knew I had to go home and paint this. I don’t paint in the field much, as so many painters do. I felt this painting needed to be painted as Monet painted his Garden at Giverny, with utter honesty and as true to life as possible. Therefore, I added much more detail than I normally do and made it bright and put my full heart into it. I wished my sister all my love for her new journey in life in that painting. The bright mixes of pastel colours expressed joy and celebration for their wedding. The geese with their shadows arching and leaning into one another were an expression of romantic love and fidelity. Time really flies and she is all grown up now. The falling leaves in the painting represent the past and the geese inspired the future.

Here is the Oil on Wood 18 x 24 painting

This painting brought a lot of joy and excitement to me because it was inspired by such a simple, small, yet beautiful moment. When my sister and her husband opened it they both really loved it and it is hanging in their home. She tells me that many who have come through their home have admired it. Hopefully it inspires as much love and joy as she has brought to my life.

For anyone who is still reading this long article, I hope that even if you do not paint, you keep finding inspiration in the small daily moments with the birds, be it shared with those we love or on your own. Monet said he “wanted to paint as the bird sings” and a singing bird inspires so much joy, just looking at a Spotted Towhee, for example inspires beauty. The graceful movements and flight patterns of birds inspire me as well. Watching an albatross feed her young, after travelling thousands of kilometers inspires compassion, love and kindness. These are the things that matter in life. Take them to heart because life is so short and time passes far too quickly. Birds should inspire us all to be better in every way. They bring us joy yes but they also control insects, they’re indicators to environmental changes in our planet and inspire us to want to conserve it. Birds also inspire us in practical ways such as to be more confident, to be free to be who we truly are with no shame, to keep hope, to be patient, to be early and on time, to be clever, to be courageous and to take leaps of faith. They inspire us to keep persevering through adversity, to keep our friends close and to heal emotional wounds. Birds inspire magic in us all, if we just take the time to embrace them. How dreary life would be without them and I would have nothing to paint!

*Disclaimer all the paintings on this blog post cannot be viewed large to prevent theft of original artwork. If you want to view them in full size please go to my Flickr page Here


  1. Wow! Sensational artwork! You are so talented!!! Thanks for sharing!!! I really enjoyed reading!

    1. Thank you Viktor you are quite the talented painter yourself!

  2. Amazing paintings Mel! So sorry to hear about your loss too, but it's a beautiful painting as tribute.

    1. Thank you so much B, i'm touched you think that.

  3. mel your work is beautiful and so was the post. you are a talented and wonderful spirit!

  4. you are so talented mel thanks for sharing all of it with us.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts

Dowitcher Identification

Hawk Identification Tips from every angle (Sharpie vs Cooper and Red-tailed Subspecies)


*Updated - The most famous Red-tailed Hawk is eating fish on the ground just like a Bald Eagle!

My First Mother's Day Without My Mother