Every time she picks up a paintbrush, Eldy Birnie learns something new about her craft.
As a completely self-taught artist, Birnie, 72, said everything she knows she learned through trial and error. Over the last 22 years, she’s gone from sketching animals with pencils to painting colourful abstract pieces for her patrons to enjoy.
“It’s just hands-on working with it. Painting, making mistakes and learning from it,” Birnie said. “Every time I pick up a brush I’m learning something new, which is kind of exciting.”
Unlike many artists who discover their love of art as children, Birnie said it wasn’t until she turned 50 that she got in touch with her creative side. While working at a horse breeding farm she started sketching horses using a graphite pencil, discovering a love for the animals that persists to this day.
Her artistic exploration kicked into high gear when she and her husband Mike Palka moved to Eagle Creek in 2008. Birnie said the two of them wanted to leave the hustle and bustle of the Lower Mainland behind and fell in love with the South Cariboo’s natural beauty.
“When you come out from the city it’s a culture shock in a way. There’s not a lot to do that you’re used to so I started drawing more, especially that first winter,” Birnie said. “I’d just sit in the evenings and draw graphite drawings of cats and dogs.”
As she aged, Birnie said her hands began to have trouble holding a pencil for any length of time. Rather than let that stop her, she began to experiment with other forms of art including watercolours, digital art, coloured pencils and eventually acrylic paint.
Birnie said painting with acrylics became her favourite form of art because it gave her the chance to work in colour. It took effort, practice and some research on the Internet to figure out which colours flowed best together on the canvas. Once she mastered that her style, which has been more influenced by realism, became increasingly abstract.
“Coming from the graphite pet portraits and stuff like that which were very detailed it was hard to get to the freeness of abstract paintings,” Birnie said. “I actually found acrylic pouring paint was my transition. When you’re doing that you just pour paint in a certain way and move it around.”
While pour painting inspired her love for abstract designs, Birnie said she found it was more fun to take control of the design herself. Taking a big brush and just “going for it” is her favourite part of the painting process these days.
“It’s like an adventure. You’re exploring and taking risks with big bold colours and swooping movements and that, to me, is fun.”
Taking inspiration from the natural beauty of her surroundings is something Birnie isn’t shy about doing. While she doesn’t paint the landscapes of the Cariboo, she said she uses the land’s natural colours in her paintings.
“I do still love drawing and painting horses so they sneak into my paintings quite often,” Birnie said. “Every time I start painting I like to picture a horse’s back or a mane flowing and I’ll put those kinds of shapes on the canvas first and work from there.”
Birnie said she plans to share her artistic process with the community by running a painting demonstration at the South Cariboo Farmers Market. Her paintings are already sold there alongside Palka’s birdhouses so she thinks people will enjoy seeing how they’re made.