Artist’s life-like bird exhibit taking flight

Art: Red Deer painter captures native varieties in traveling exhibition

By: Tammy Rollie

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Mar 19, 2014 06:00 am

This painting by Erika Schulz of three chickadees is among 21 <br />displayed in the Okotoks Art Gallery’s small gallery until April 19.
This painting by Erika Schulz of three chickadees is among 21
displayed in the Okotoks Art Gallery’s small gallery until April 19.
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A Red Deer artist’s collection of life-like bird paintings is taking flight in a traveling exhibition that first landed in Okotoks almost two weeks ago.

Erika Schulz’s display of 21 acrylic bird paintings called An Art Aviary presents a spectrum of native Alberta birds ranging from songbirds and farm fowl to raptors and scavengers and will adorn galleries across southern Alberta this year starting at the Okotoks Art Gallery’s small gallery, where it is currently displayed.

The idea of capturing southern Alberta’s native bird species using acrylic paints originated from Schulz’s love of the flighty animals.

“I love birds and it’s a subject that I enjoy painting,” she said. “It’s definitely one of my favourites. I have a relationship with the bird life in my area.”

Schulz’s home is next to the Kerry Wood Nature Centre, a natural reserve in Red Deer. With her house on a hillside beside the reserve and the Red Deer River running through the city offering a variety of bird species including eagles, flacons and the occasional white heron, Schulz has no shortage of subjects to paint.

“I’m lucky enough to live in an area that is surrounded by the parks system so I don’t have to go very far to be in a naturalistic environment,” she said. “There’s a real great variety of birds and I see them all the time. It seemed natural for me to put together an exhibition of paintings all having to do with birds.”

While many painters take pictures to capture their subjects, Schulz relies on the skills of her photographer friends – often browsing their online photo galleries and asking permission to use their captured images to create her next painting.

“I’m a terrible photographer,” she admitted. “I’m not adept at it enough to take the really high quality shots.”

Using these photographs, Schulz creates realistic paintings that accurately represent the colours and markings displayed on the various birds she paints.

Schulz also studies these details in her own backyard, which is filled with bird feeders and bird boxes year round.

“Being right next to the nature sanctuary there is a traffic flow between the nature centre and my backyard,” she said. “I’m outside all the time and looking out the window all the time. You have to be so fast. I’ll catch a flash of something I might not have seen before, the binoculars come out and I’m trying to figure out what that bird is.”

Schulz recently connected with the Ellis Bird Farm in Lacombe, which is dedicated to the conversation of a variety of small bird species.

“I just started visiting them quite frequently in the summer time and getting more interested in what they’re doing in their conservation,” she said.

With birds a common topic of discussion for Schulz, she noticed a very black and white view when it comes to people’s opinions on these egg-laying vertebrates. Either people love them, hate them or are terrified of them, she said.

“You get an extreme reaction from people,” she said. “A lot of people are very dedicated to a certain bird type. Crows are always a big issue. They tend to be one of those birds people love or hate.”

Schulz can’t help admiring all bird types, but admits there are some she paints more frequently than others, including robins and blue jays, but tries to even it out as much as possible.

“There’s such a huge variety that it seems a shame to be dealing with the same bird over and over again,” she said. “I challenge myself to discover new varieties that I might not have seen.”

For instance, once Schulz began the series people started suggesting she paint the yellow flicker, a woodpecker that exists in certain parts of Red Deer.

Having never seen the bird before, Schulz did some research and got busy painting. A week after completing the piece, 10 yellow flickers showed up in her yard.

“It was so bizarre,” she said. “It was like a party was going on in my backyard of that bird. It’s that whole law of attraction. If you paint them they will come.”

As important as the image of the bird in each painting is the background, said Schulz.

Rather than placing the birds in a tree, on a pond or with other natural backgrounds, Schulz uses a different kind of imagery to provide contrast to the birds.

“In my paintings one of the things that I try to achieve with them is a sense of juxtaposition or contrast,” she said. “The birds are quite realistically painted, but the background is flat.”

Schulz said the backgrounds are spontaneously painted in a textural pattern - whatever happens to come to mind at the time.

“I just go in and paint it and make it up as I’m going along,” she said.

Schulz began creating the collection in 2012, painting many of the pieces the last four months. Some individual pieces are on display at Bluerock Gallery in Black Diamond, but this is the first time Schulz exhibited An Art Aviary as a group.

“It’s always wonderful to see a body of your work in a gallery setting,” she said. “It gives you a great sense of accomplishment.

“It’s always presented so visually. The spaces are designed for viewing with great lighting and a quiet atmosphere.”

An Art Aviary is available for viewing in the Okotoks Art Gallery’s small gallery until April 19.

For more information or to view samples of Erika Schulz’s paintings go to


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