An artist and longtime ‘gumboot’ biologist will feature a collection of Canadian landscapes at the Qualicum Art Supply and Gallery until the end of March.
Nanaimo’s Tom Shardlow, a member of both the Society of Canadian Artists and the Federation of Canadian Artists, hopes his artwork will capture the attention and emotion of viewers just as the original landscapes had for him.
“Something about conjuring up an image, a two dimensional image – you’re conjuring up a visual story, basically; the beauty and nurturing of the wilderness,” said Shardlow.
As a self-described contemporary impressionist, he is influenced by the likes of the Group of Seven and Tom Thomson, and favours the style as a means of “continuing Canadian tradition”.
Shardlow moved to the Island from his hometown of North Vancouver to work at the Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo after graduating from UBC nearly 40 years ago.
As a field research biologist, or ‘gumboot’ biologist, he spent plenty of time exploring the great outdoors and became inspired to document what he saw and felt.
“I just love the outdoors. So I wanted to get paid for being outside; catching frogs, fish and that sort of thing.”
Prior to UBC, Shardlow studied at the Vancouver School of Art, now known as the Emily Carr School of Art and Design. While working as a biologist, he would often write and create illustrations for magazines and newspapers as a weekend job to keep his hand in art.
“Just in case things went sour with my main job,” he said with a chuckle.
Where his illustrations for articles strive for realism, his paintings aim to capture a story of emotion and appreciation for nature.
“Many artists tell stories with their paintings, but you’ll have some figures in it – maybe of a person looking at flowers – there’s somebody in some activity, and it’s pretty clearly a story. But these (his current collection on display) are stories about shapes and colour.”
As a painter, Shardlow favours acrylic and oil paints for their versatility, but has dabbled with watercolours in the past; a medium he considers unforgiving and restrictive.
“It’s so easy to overwork a watercolour. And I change my mind a lot. Where I end up is sometimes nowhere near where I thought I was going to end up. And you can’t do that with watercolour – you’ve got to plan it out and be rigorous. Acrylics and oils give you a lot more freedom.”
With acrylics, Shardlow said he can change his mind as often as he wants, although pieces that require a lot of adjustments tend not to be his favourites and some of the best pieces are the ones done quickly without too many changes.
Although, to Shardlow, finishing a painting is more about realizing when to step back and put down the brush.
“I don’t know if they’re ever done – they’re sort of at a certain stage of completion. And I think the thing that comes to mind is if I go further I’m going to screw it up. That’s really what stops me,” he said, adding the trick is to find balance in your work.
A unique and sometimes noticeable detail to Shardlow’s work is when a section of the ground layer is left visible in the final product. The ground, being the first layer used to prepare a surface for painting which, depending on the colour or intention of the artist, can affect the chromatic and tonal values of the layers over it. In several pieces on display in Qualicum Beach, the ground appears as an outline around the subject, but in actuality, is emphasized by the absence of an outline.
“It’s a device; it’s a way to unify. So you’re pulling all the various elements together with that unifying colour theme that’s underneath,” he said, adding his ground layers are usually in red or black paint.
As a man with several creative talents, Shardlow has dabbled in writing as well. As a young man, he had inclinations of pursuing freelance writing, although found the competition steep with a strong drive to produce and little mercy given. He did, however, write two books – Mapping the Wilderness: The Story of David Thompson and A Trail by Stars, which chronicles the journey of David Thompson using excerpt form Thompson’s own journals.
“It opened my eyes to how difficult it was going to be to be a writer. And painting just comes easier to me, so that’s what I do.”