Chickadee dee deeee

Sweet, fat, fluffy and round.  

And cute! Dear little chickadees. I cannot stop painting them.  They make me so happy.  We admire them daily as they flit in and out of our feeders.  They fly in and steal a sunflower seed.  Fly into the grapevines or into a nearby tree.  Crack open the seed.  And then come back again.  Over and over for most of the day.  So entertaining!

Chickadee dee dee by Helen Shideler

Not a crazy bird lady

Before you get the idea I am a crazy bird lady,  I will explain.  You see we have large windows all over our house and place the feeders strategically so you can catch a glimpse as you walk by.  Quite heavenly.  Tonight there was a pair of cardinals outside the kitchen window.  I am amazed at how red he truly is this time of year.  She was in  the feeder and he was ever watchful.  Until he saw me watching them. And then they were gone.

Chickadee by Helen Shideler

And so there are two little chickadee painting.  The one on the bottom is sold

Spring Scentsation on the easel

On the easel for awhile

This fall has had me going madly off in all directions.  Literally.  I have twice travelled across the country clearing four time zones in each direction.  Had two nasty sinus infections that literally had me down and out.  Add in a kitchen reno and phew a trip to Newfoundland!  No wonder these paintings are taking awhile to finish.

Spring Scentsation by Helen Shideler

It seems that every night after I have worked on this

and then lie in bed trying to go to sleep, my mind is so active continuing to paint the little lilac florets.  Sometimes I can even feel my hands moving. I enjoy every sleepless moment of it!  You see it is not every painting that imprints on my brain like this.  I think that is reserved for the special ones.  The ones that literally excite you to the point that they keep you awake at nights.  I so love the goopy bits of paint that help to define and sculpt the blossoms. And delight on the many colour variances in those little petals. From the various shades of lilac to the pinks to blues and how the colours are affected by the light and shade.




we have a happening little backyard pond

Our little garden pond is has proven to be a real happening place. 

It is a proverbial bee hive of activity.  Honey bees fly down to the pond to get a drink of water.  They will land on a lily pad and walk to the little puddle of water in the centre.  They will also land and a gently sloping edge rock and walk to the surface of the water.  I often wondered why there were so many of them.  This took us awhile to figure out.  You see we have pretty extensive gardens so you expect and hope for bees.  Why so many at the pond? There is a real congregation.  I really wanted to figure it out.  I would pay attention to the direction they were flying off to (secretly concerned they may be nesting under our deck).  There is only so long you can see a little bee flying away from you as they disappear into the landscape pretty quickly. They appeared to be leaving in the same general direction flying off towards our apple trees.  Here is where it gets embarrassing.  We were marveling over our buzzing visitors for a few summers when I happened to mention them to our next door neighbor.  Carol said something like… look up at the crest of the hill Helen towards Pat’s house.  See those white boxes at the back corner of her property?  Well they are bee hives. Pat is a bee keeper. Flash of embarrassment.  And I consider myself to be an observant person.

There is a little frog living along the rocks at the waters edge. It climbs out of the water to warm itself on the rocks on sunny days.  Every time I see him my heart skips a beat.  I am sure his does too because when it sees me there is a big splash as he jumps into hiding in the water.  I have been stealth like in my endeavours to catch a few photos.  

Another interesting visitor to the pond are dragon flies.  This is an interesting point.  Dragonflies seem to be self-aware.  As soon as I get my camera focused they are gone.  Darn.  I have missed so many photos.

The deer eat our garden plants close to the waterfall.  Sparrows like to bathe in the waterfall.  And Gary and I like to sit and bask in the comforting sound of the waterfall with an ever watchful eye for the next visitor.

Anxiously Waiting

I have a new appreciation for how dedicated and anxious nesting birds really are.

Take this robin for instance.  Gary and I recently made a trip up to the cottage with the intention of cleaning and freshening it up.  We packed up our car to the roof and headed out.  Once we go to the cottage, we had to make several trips inside with our arms loaded up.  Fist trip in we did not see the nesting robin. But it saw us.  In a flurry of rather noisy, flapping and with a look of indignation - then the robin left the nest every time one of us walked by.  This went on for quite while until they either got tired out or simply gave up.  I eventually was able to un-intrusively get a few reference photos.  

Anxiously Waiting by Helen Shideler

When I took the photos I knew there was a painting in there.

Yesterday, while painting at Hooper's Studios and Gallery for the opening of "Four Watercolour Painters" (of which I am one), I decided to paint this scene.  I very loosely sketched out the bird in the nest. It took shape very quickly.

I was careful not to overwork the cedar shakes as I wanted the focal point to be obvious. The robin was fun to paint.  The nest took more concentration than I expected.  As a result, I was unable to complete the painting in one sitting.  Contributing to distracting me from completing it was the fact it was 32 degrees celsius with high humidity.  Hard to paint in a sauna.  Hard to paint in high humidity with watercolours - you cannot in any way shape or form get a crisp line. 

I packed up.  Drove home and enjoyed the amazing show of lightning on display. And finished the painting this morning,  

Painting of a Dragonfly on the Fence


We have a backyard pond complete with a waterfall and lily pads.  And dragonflies are frequent  visitors.  Frequent but they do not rest for long. Almost never long enough for me to run and get may camera and get back down the stairs.  And my camera is by the door when I am home!  Another missed opportunity.

On the Fence 

On the Fence 

But I have gotten lucky a few times

One summer a dragonfly landed on my friend Jackie’s belly. And  I had my camera right there.  I just had to convince her not to swoosh him away until I got the photos.   The photos were really over exposed as her top was white but, as an artist, I am pretty good at improvising.  That painting is shown at the bottom of this post.

At a visit to M Mills to see the flocks of migratory sea birds I was so surprised by number of dragonflies. So many varieties. So many really big ones. So big.  And hovering doing the helicopter flight thing.  I spent the entire day there trying to get a great photo of one and you know?  They are super  fast.  Just as soon as I would have the camera on the ready they were gone.  Every single time.

On a recent trip to Arizona as I was strolling down a path in the 100 degree sunshine (melting) when I spied a dragonfly resting on a fence right beside me.  Actually resting.  My camera was actually around my neck.  So,  I got some pretty cool photos.  The result is show below in “On the Fence”.  This is a 9”x12” acrylic on Ampersand Claybord.

I know you have heard me talk about Claybord previously  

I have a love hate relationship with it.  Almost always the acrylic paint does not behave as I expect it to making for some stressful moments and multiple do overs.  What I love about it is that when you mess it up you are able to scrub off most of the paint and start over.  What I hate about it is (and all acrylic paint for that matter) is that the layers of paint have to be completely dry between the layers or the bottom paint will lift off.  Uncool.  This is particularly bad on Claybord.

The background of this painting is a really good bad example of this  

Blending is particularly challenging especially on the base coats.  Once you have your base coat down it does get easier to work with.  The smooth surface allows for highly detailed paint application.  Love this.  Then I had to draw the dragonfly on the painted layer.  This is nerve wracking as you really do not want to erase on paint or have to correct your drawing with paint (although this works really well trust me).

This painting is scheduled to hung in the upcoming shaw at the Saint John Arts Centre "Stained Glass Revisited" in September

Jackie's Dragon by Helen Shideler




Two Cardinal Paintings Fresh Off the Easel

Two acrylic paintings of cardinals on cradled panels

I needed today to be a productive day.  I needed to feel accomplishment and be distracted. And what a better way to distract yourself than to paint two cardinal paintings!  These birds are truly stunning.

That incredible shock of red

The sight of a male cardinal on a winters day will literally take your breath away especially when seen against a snowy background or on a grey cloudy day.  They are magnificent.  Unprecedented beauty.  They are a symbol of hope and renewal.  Strength. Grace.  

Happy to See You - Painting of a cardinal by Helen SHideler


Some believe cardinals are messenger.  Visitors. They show up when you are celebrating or missing someone you love.  For me, today was a two cardinal kind of day!

Sweet Memories cardinal painting by Helen Shideler

Some days you need to be retrospective

And it is certainly one of those days for me. Today is an anniversary that has a profound impact on me. Every year from a certain Monday in March to April 3rd i find I am fighting back tears.  I manage through it.  Try not to give in to it.  This year I decided to handle it differently - to celebrate and embrace it in a spiritual way.  

Cardinals are often thought to be symbolic of a loved one who has passed.   I decided that today I would embrace the day. Not fight it. Not try to ignore it.  You see today is the anniversary of the passing of my son.  Dear sweet Andrew Justin Hill.  And how much I miss him.  This is so very much a huge piece of who I am.  Today I decided to face the day head on. Painting birds that evoke sweet memories for us and for so many.  And they were my mothers favourite bird and are loved by our family.  


Week 3 - 30 Paintings in 30 Days

Time marches on - only one week left of the challenge

Day 15 – Striking a Pose

This painting took a serious long time to complete. And I had a real challenging time to title it.

Then, when we stood back and looked at it - well, my daughter and I see a large doggies face and a cat lite "Cats" face on it's back. Then we stopped trying to come up with a clever name. The resolution has been lowers for the posting so the colours are not showing as rich as they really are and the unintentional other critters not as obvious.

Day 16 – Out  for a Paddle

I always come back to ducks. They make me so happy with their perpetual smiles, cheeky cheeks  and happy attitude (I think). We have mallards that visit the bird feeders outside my studio window daily. And every time I see them I pause and watch them.

Day 17 – Twin Beaks

Once upon a time, quite recently actually, I think I mentioned that I may be done painting chickadees. Well I was wrong.  And now they are multiplying.  So much fun.

Day 18 – Breath Taking

Cardinals are daily visitors to our garden feeders. And no matter how many times I see them, I stop in awe. They absolutely take my breath away - overtime. They are very shy and skittish. If you so much as make eye contact they are gone so fast. Even trying to take photograph them requires a quiet camera and stealth like precision shooting.

Day 19 – opps

I skipped this day!  Decided to be a rebel.  My husband and I went out for supper instead.  I really needed a break.

Day 20 – On a Mission

On a Mission as this gull is looking pretty determined to get somewhere fast.  
The one in the bin was another gull (uncooperative sky)

Day 21 - Trying to Hide

I am always amazed at how shy cardinals are. They are so self aware- they see you before you see them and quite often you see them leave. But when they hesitate - they always have at least one eye on you, Being so red I guess you have to try to hide as best you can.

These paintings are available on my website

Week 2 - 30 Paintings in 30 Days

The problem with the loony

When The 30 in 30 Challenge facilitates the need and opportunity to paint every day.  I love the discipline it creates for me.  The dedication. And most of all the support and encouragement from family and friends.   And the fact I had to get super organized with ideas and art supplies.  Speaking of art supplies, has anyone else noticed how expensive they have gotten since the Loonie plunged?  

The only personal challenge is that we eat at ridiculous times…no wait, we do that anyway. 

Day 8  "Welcome Visitor"  

I really think the only think trickier that painting with red in watercolour is painting red in Acrylic! I think this handsome cardinal was work the effort.

Day 9  "Snow Day"

This sweet little bird was so patiently waiting it;s turn at the feeder. It was so interesting to watch them. They would feed with the chickadees but when one if it's own kind would try to join in, they would get into an airborne flapping match.

Day 10 "Snowy Morning"

Little companion painting for Snow Day. They look sweet beside each other. All fluffed up and waiting for their turn at the feeders. While canaries are so sweet.

Day 11 "Seeds For Me"

This chickadee cutie was painted by special request as a companion piece for "At the Feeder" painted last week.

Day 12 "Mourning Glory"

I have to admit that this painting has taken the most amount of time so far. Two nights painting - phew. This fella was sitting in our grape vines near the feeder. I think guarding it from other birds so he can have all the seeds to himself. Mourning Doves are greedy and messy feeders. Good thing they are beautiful. My husband would dispute the beauty thing because of the mess they create - all the time!

Day 13 "Goosey Goosey Gander"

Ampersand Aquabord is one of my favourite surfaces for acrylic - even over Gessobord. It is so much more versatile for me. You can easily use acrylics like watercolors for an interesting effects. I even used some frisket - have to admit I was a bit nervous - but it worked out fine. Get nervous every time I try this, unsure why. Once this challenge is over, I will do a "how to" blog post on the process I use.

Anyway - I named this little painting what I did because it sounds fun - but thinking I have two ganders and one goose. Oh well...most people will not know ...I hope.

Day 14 "Looking Back"

I cannot help but think this handsome crow was posing for me - standing there so tall and proud with all it's feathers very neat and smooth.

Special requests

I ma getting a number of special requests for certain birds - if you would like to see something painted (especially if you would like to purchase it) just let me know - no obligation.  If I have  reference photos that I have taken, I will consider the request.


Week 1 - 30 Paintings in 30 Days

I love this challenge

I particularly love this challenge when it happens in January.  It is such a perfect time of year to hunker down in the studio and paint till my hearts content. I take this opportunity to paint material that I have been thinking about for awhile, to explore new subjects, materials and techniques.  

Day 1 – “Lily”

I have a vision of painting many doggies on large scale canvases.  It is something I will get around to do one day – but in the meantime, painting dogs small scale during this challenge is great practice and fun.  I smile all the way through.

Day 2 – “Sitting Pretty”

Between Christmas and New Year’s I was on a photo mission. I braved the elements for many days patiently waiting for the right photo ops to present. I knew I was on a chickadee hunt as the cardinals have proven to be too elusive and skittish.  I guess being bright red they have to be very self-aware at all times.

These sweet little black capped chickadees are spending a lot of time in the brushed getting ready for their turn at our feeders. We get so much enjoyment out of their antics. They always seem to know we are there watching them - or are they watching us?

Day 3 – “Sing For Your Supper”

This little sweetie had just landed at the feeder and was all fluffed up. See, one foot has not yet fully landed on the perch. I tried to catch it in motion coming in - but that was a complete blur. They are freakishly fast. Anyway - He looks like he is so happy he is about to break into song!

Day 4 – “Ruffled Tail Feathers”

The chickadees wait for their turn at the feeder in the burning bush beside the house and in the grape vines that grow over the pergola.  They have may place to perch and I think pose for me.  This little fella I think had an altercation with something.  His poor tail is all ruffled and ragged.

Day 5 – “Playful Perch”

Ok, I think this little fella was posing for me.

Day 6 – “At the Feeder”

At this point I discovered that I can take photos through the window with my long lens.  Oh happy day.  No more froze nose and toes for me! Obviously I have spent a lot of time bird watching...stalking. This little guy was working so hard to crack the sunflower seed that he dropped it. Good thing the feeder was full!

Day 7 – “Patiently Waiting”

There is a definite pecking orer at our feeders.  First the red squirrels or furry birds as we call them.  Then the mourning dove and the grackle (why has it not migrated).  And then the chickadees.  I often refer to them as patient – but they are certainly not.

And I can honestly say - this is the last chickadee for awhile! Week one is behind me now and it is time to start another series. Gee, whatever will it be?


Gone to the Birds

I joined in a challenge to paint 30 Paintings in 30 Days.  The first week quickly became about painting chickadees!

I knew the challenge was coming up so between Christmas and New Years I braved the elements to attempt to get as many photographs as possible.  I stood out on our deck for hours.  Freezing my fingers off while waiting for the perfect photo opportunity.  Interesting enough, it did not take me too long to figure out that these feathers cherubs are much faster than I.  I managed to get many empty feeder shots. And a few with the snow flying as the little cuties flew off the feeder.  

A Discovery 

After about three days of obsessive photographing and freezing I discovered that my Canon camera with my long lens can shoot through the glass at my kitchen window. Well now.  No more freezing.  Interesting enough only the long lens can do it.  Go figure.  So about 500 photos later, I have enough reference material to keep me painting for 90 days!  Loving it.

Oh Yeah

The first painting I did for the challenge was of a white husky appropriately named "Lily".


These painting are available on my web site.  You can get there from here by clicking on AVAILABLE WORK on the top menu on this site and going to artwork portfolio.

Lessons Learned

Due to the inclement and cold temperatures, I decided to use LIquitex acrylic varnish.  They recommend for best results that you first apply a thin (and they mean it) coat of gloss then apply a thin layer of matte. This is great product for work with backgrounds.  Not so much for leaving      the lovely white backgrounds of Gessobord or Clapboard unpainted.  No mater how careful your are you get a bit of frustrating streaking.  

RECOMMENDATION: If you are leaving much of the surface unpainted, you are much better off to use an archival spray varnish.