Over time, sketchbooks start telling a story of connections to where you live and what interests you. As a teenager my early sketchbooks were full of technical drawings of motorcycles, guitars and snowmobiles. Seven summers at drawing boards in my Dad’s structural engineering firm during high school and university honed my drafting skills. And when I began studying Biology at Trent University, the sketchbooks filled with more formal taxonomic and dissection drawings, which led to work illustrating reports, journal articles and field guides. Back then, I was was working with straight nibs, jars of India ink and scratchboard.
The technical illustration work opened up opportunities to illustrate several books for Farley Mowat, David Suzuki, a Sierra Club Field Guide and a number of sizeable projects for World Wildlife Fund, Canada. This work included researching, writing and illustrating brochures, booklets and posters for conservation campaigns focused on the Rainforest and endangered species. By this point, most of the illustration work was full colour. Initially, I worked in dry brush water colour (Andrew Wyeth), then developed a technique using primarily dry pigments, chalk and oil and wax based pencil crayons. I find these work better to capture the delicate and complex colours of smaller subjects like insects and flowers.
Nearly all of my study and drawing has been focused on the importance of little live things. I’m drawn to the edges and forgotten corners, out-of-the-way places where so much happens on a small scale. Field guides for flowers often describe them as “waste” places, though in my experience, they are almost without exception, far from a waste.
Over the years I have spent time doing original research on dragonfly mating systems, paper wasp nest development, mating behaviours in Spring Peepers and the development of sociality in ground nesting sweat bees. I briefly flirted with comparative breeding systems of local stream darters and the interactions of some of the local bats. Most recently, I’ve recreated much of Darwin’s work on floral biology and pollination, studying the same species and using his techniques. I have grown the same “bee” flowers in my garden, recreated Darwin’s experiments and dissections on both familiar garden flowers and a wide survey of the exotic orchid species he studied.
For the past 30 years, I have been lucky enough to live with my family on a few acres atop a cliff edge of the Indian River near Peterborough, Ontario. My backyard is the Warsaw Caves Conservation area and not a day goes by that I don’t run my two border collies on the trails, go cycling or kayaking (sometimes, even all three). It’s a landscape of drumlins and swale, exposed limestone, varied vegetation and habitat with sufficient edges and corners to keep me interested. In the middle of it all, I keep a small, diverse, and admittedly, disorganized garden. And in my sketchbooks I try to keep making sense of it all.