Sharon Bamber

Animal portraits connect water and wildlife

Bamber’s award-winning pastel paintings will be showing at Studio Connexion starting July 17.

“I don’t have the art speak,” Sharon Bamber warned me over lunch at Caffe Lago during our interview.

Maybe not, but she does know what she’s talking about. Bamber’s pastel paintings will be showing at Studio Connexion starting July 17, and although she may be new to the art game, her talent is obvious to anyone with eyes in their head. Her paintings have wowed judges and won international awards.

Her passion for portraying animals in their habitat is conspicuous too.

“Wildlife has always been a passion,” said Bamber who studied zoology in university.

“You never know what you’re going to see next,” she remarked about living here in the Kootenays.

“Coming to work I saw two bald eagles. It adds something to life, being surrounded by wildlife,” she mused, saying that even the osprey nests on top of the hydro poles turn something man made that could be a scar on the landscape into something beautiful.

Bamber works in the Arrow Lakes News office as the advertising department, and her southern-facing window affords her a view that sometimes includes a heron, osprey or bald eagle flying over the lake.

Water, a central concern this year for all Kootenayans, is also a central theme in Bamber’s upcoming show entitled “Wild Waters.”

Watching a recent documentary about salmon, Bamber discovered how the fish are integral to the web of life, and provide a connection between water and land.

Her love of water goes beyond the ecological, though, and into the technical as well.

“I love painting water,” she said. “It’s really challenging; it’s always moving.” Instead of thinking she is going to paint water, Bamber sets about capturing shapes and patterns and values she sees in the flow. Attempting to convey a sense of motion can be a trial, but when she achieves it, it’s very rewarding.

The painter is always looking at the colour and shape of the world around her. Sometimes, she said, she’ll just stand in one place and commit what she sees to memory for later use.

Bamber’s process is labour-intense; she begins by drawing tons of thumbnails to get the values and compositions right, then she moves to slightly larger sketches.

Although she works from photos and the live animals that reside in Kamloops’ wildlife park, her paintings are a mix of seen things and imagination.

“Animals are never in the right position for a composition,” she said, so she has taken up studying their anatomy so she can accurately portray them.

Her studies haven’t ended there, however. In order for the portraits to be credible, she also learns about the animals’ natural environments, also a challenge for someone born in a different part of the world.

“I’m still on such a learning curve with these animals because I didn’t grow up with them,” the U.K.-born Bamber said.

Although aiming for accuracy is important, it’s not the painter’s goal, whose objective is to convey a feeling rather than a scientifically correct portrait.

Sharon Bamber’s first solo exhibit of her pastel paintings, “Wild Waters,” will be on display at Studio Connexion in Nakusp from July 17 to August 4, with the official opening taking place the evening of July 20.