Artist and printmaker Elisabeth Sommerville offers a compelling collection of lithographs and egg tempera paintings of birds. Enjoy more of her work by visiting her website.
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be an artist. In kindergarten, kids at my table always asked me to draw their pictures. I was crazy about drawing horses, perhaps because my home town is Calgary, home of the famous Stampede Rodeo.
Calgary was also home to the Alberta College of Art. I wanted to quit high school in eleventh grade to attend, but my mother wouldn’t let me go until I graduated. Art school was wonderful. I learned both fine art and commercial art. My ambition was to have a successful career in design and advertising. I remember the fine art students being contemptuous of the commercial art students, thinking they weren’t “real artists.” We all learned drawing and painting, but oil painting was something I wasn’t that fond of.
I moved to Vancouver, and years later while visiting Calgary ran into Illingworth Kerr, who had been head of the Alberta College of art when I attended. I asked if he remembered me, and he exclaimed “You’re in my book!” In his memoir, Paint and Circumstance, he wrote, “I recall a beautiful brown-eyed gal who floored me by her powerful drawings in first year and destroyed me by her weak painting in second year. She then took off to be a ski instructor.” Well, in spite of the skiing, I did have a successful art career in Vancouver, establishing my own award-winning graphic design company, Sommergraphics. I loved every minute of it.
With retirement approaching, I began exploring what turned out to be another career as a fine artist. After taking some printmaking courses, I joined a printmaking studio and discovered stone lithography.
This very complex method of making art involves drawing on a slab of finely grained limestone using special lithographic pencils. It is not unlike drawing on paper. I was hooked.
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I eventually gravitated to birds as subjects, particularly crows and owls. Where I live, thousands of crows fly past my patio in the evening on their way to roost and are a constant inspiration. Many people are fond of owls, and I’m certainly one of them.
Because stone lithography is similar to the way I prepared art for commercial printing, it was easy to apply that knowledge to produce multi-coloured prints. I worked for twenty years at Malaspina Printmaking Studio until it got too difficult to move the heavy stone I used and stand for hours operating the litho press.
I now paint with egg tempera. This technique, using pigment powder mixed with egg yolk, was used during the Renaissance before oil paint was discovered.
There aren’t many egg tempera painters today. It’s a painstaking process that uses multiple layers of transparent paint to build up the image. The layers give the finished painting a unique luminescence.
Working with the fine brushes necessary is as familiar as using pencils. I love working in my home studio overlooking the birds that visit my birdfeeder.
Artist Elisabeth Sommerville invites you to follow her on Instagram.
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