Artist is nuts for squirrels

Local pop-surrealist artist Carollyne Yardley finds her niche in fur.

  • Jul. 18, 2012 6:00 p.m.
Local painter Carollyne Yardley has gone nuts for her art, which features portraits of squirrels with human bodies. See her work at the TD Art Gallery Paint-In July 21, 2012.

Local painter Carollyne Yardley has gone nuts for her art, which features portraits of squirrels with human bodies. See her work at the TD Art Gallery Paint-In July 21, 2012.

The squirrel is nature’s supreme gatherer — amassing nuts, berries and seeds, then hiding them away for retrieval at a later date.

Local artist Carollyne Yardley is much the same, except she collects unique vintage clothing, luxurious costume jewelry, hand-made hats and ornate picture frames, storing them away in her tickle trunk as inspiration for her next painting.

“I’ve been a vintage shopper and collector for 25 years and so I have this haul of really cool, neat stuff that I actually wear as well,” says Yardley, who’s had a fascination with costuming and design from a very young age.

Her collection is often what stimulates her creativity to paint her brand of pop surrealism. And while her portraits feature whimsical wide-eyed subjects dressed to the nines — a fortune teller with tarot cards, a nosey neighbour peering through binoculars, a geisha mysteriously hiding her face with a fan, and a socialite clad in a refined retro suit and pearls ready for outer-space — they aren’t quite what one would expect. The wide-eyed subject isn’t an alluring woman or a magnificent man — it’s always a squirrel.

“I started teaching myself to paint by ‘re-mastering’ the masters,” says Yardley. “The first one was by Raphael called The Women with the Veil. My husband suggested I paint a squirrel on her lap.”

That was the first squirrel to grace one of her paintings.

The first painting of a human body with a squirrel head is An Officer and a GentleSquirrel, a portrait of her husband in his military uniform.

Yardley has painted three full series of squirrels; Secret Squirrels (Acrylic on canvas inspired by the Hanna-Barbera cartoon) features Saint Squirrels and GentleSquirrels, as well as Elvis, Mermaid and Fortune Teller Squirrels.

The next series was Sophisticated Squirrels (2011, oil on board), featuring Green Bun, Steampunk and Space Hat Squirrels.

Her latest series is Sirius Squirrels (2012, oil on board); including Morning Glory (squirrel on a huge chicken), The Dovekeeper (Squirrel in a bird’s nest) and Cupid and Psyche (a squirrel riding a butterfly).

“I actually buy the frames first and then I go down and have them cut something to fit. I always have an idea before I do a piece who’s going in here,” she says as she points to the beautiful bronze frame of her newest Captain America-inspired piece, The Avenger. “I want the piece to be all connected.”

Although her inspirations range from pop culture and fairy tales to dreams and just sitting in the yard watching the squirrels, a lot of her inspiration comes from photoshoots styled with pieces from her vintage collection.

She’ll pull a variety of dresses, hats and accessories and dress up herself and other models to find the perfect look for her portraits, which feature a human body with a squirrel head.

“I like that squirrels are a bit mysterious, but very serious about their work, collecting, burying and eating nuts. The more I watch their behaviour, the more I identify with their traits,” says Yardley, who has anywhere between three and ten squirrels living in the yard of her Rockland home throughout the year.

“They are a bit scrappy and will gamble a precarious jump, or stare danger in the face without showing fear. All of those qualities are valuable if you are in business for yourself, even more so if your business is the visual arts.”

After 14 years as co-owner and creative director of a web development company (Star Global), her business partner decided he wanted out of the business and Yardley was left to make a new career choice.

“The prospects of looking for a job after having my own company for the last 14 years was actually more terrifying to me than starting a new company,” says Yardley, “So I thought about what I wanted to do 20 years ago. I went to school for fine art and art history. I looked back and meditated and thought ‘what can I do by myself that doesn’t require somebody else or another knowledge base so I won’t be stopped’, and that was my art.”

She started painting in the evenings after work in 2008 and by 2010 she was “open for business.”

“I put my shingle out, got business cards and geared all my website, facebook and everything towards art,” she says.

Originally, Yardley was painting acrylic on canvas. It wasn’t until she met Noah Becker, founder and editor-in-chief of Whitehot Magazine, that she made the switch to her current medium, oil on board, with his advice.

“We met for lunch and he took one look at my Saint Squirrel … and told me I need to be oil on board and that I should do a grisaille layer first,” says Yardley.

A grisaille layer is a monochromatic underlayer where the artist would paint the whole work in black and white, before adding any colour. The technique makes it easier for the painter to match colour values later on.

“I’ve found that I’m a bit of an aggressive painter and that I’m a little bit hard with my brushes, and canvas is malleable, so the canvas moves while I paint and the board pushes back,” she says.

She sands down the board (she sources from Castle Building Centre) before applying black gesso to the surface, then repeats to get as smooth a surface as possible. Then she draws in shapes and loose detail with a white pencil crayon.

“I really sculpt the painting in the black and white layer. That’s where all the detail is formed,” says Yardley. The grisaille layer is about half of the work of the entire painting.

She uses water-based oil paint for the grisaille layer and then linseed-based oil paint for the top layers. She also uses a food-grade, soy-based brush cleaner that acts as a thinning agent (made at Art World).

“When I first saw her work I could tell there was a lot of potential there,” says Becker, an accomplished painter, musician and art writer who lives part time in both New York City and Victoria.

“I could tell she had some questions about the history of painting and how certain things are accomplished. I thought the monochromatic underpainting would improve what she was trying to do. I was stunned at how quickly she picked it up and applied it.”

The first painting Yardley used the grisaille technique for is Green Bun Squirrel (2011), a portrait of a fabulously dressed squirrel with an overflowing mane of green hair tied up in a bun.

The results of the new technique and medium are astounding. Where as some of the detail was being lost in the weave of the canvas before, now every single strand of fur is as prominent as the squirrels’ huge black eyes.

“I’ve discovered that I’m really, really good at painting fur,” she says with her distinctive gregarious giggle. M

 

Watch Yardley in action at the TD Art Gallery Paint-In, Sat., July 21 between 11am and 4:30pm. Yardley will be stationed on the corners of Moss and Rockland.

Three of Yardley’s works are also in the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria’s summer small works show and sale, which is open for viewing in the Massey Gallery during the Paint-In. Plus, she’ll have three works in the Sooke Fine Arts Show, July 28- Aug. 6.

Yardley currently has eight originals for sale, but also produces limited giclee prints on canvas via her website, carollyne.com.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Blue Bridge Theatre
Stratford star teams up with Blue Bridge Theatre

A New Take on a Perennial Favourite

The COVID-19 pandemic had an effect on film production on central and north Vancouver Island, says Vancouver Island North Film Commission. Pictured here, production of TV series Resident Alien in Ladysmith earlier this year. (Black Press file)
Film commissioner says COVID-19 cost central Island $6 million in economic activity

Jurassic World: Dominion, Chesapeake Shores among productions halted due to pandemic, says INFilm

Chelsey Moore’s character Chloe in the upcoming virtual reality game Altdeus: Beyond Chronos. Screengrab
Vancouver Island actress finds success in a virtual world

Black Creek’s Chelsey Moore lends her voice to a new video game set for release in December

Ceramic artist Darrel Hancock working on a clay jug in his home studio in Qualicum Beach. (Submitted photo)
Qualicum Beach potter Darrel Hancock celebrates 40 years in business

‘It’s wonderful to do what you love and make a living at it’

Artist Daniel Cline discusses his sculpture, Harmony Humpbacks, during the June 20 walking tour of Oak Bay’s 2019 ArtsAlive sculptures. Harmony Humpbacks was purchased by Oak Bay as the 2019 people’s choice winner and is permanently installed at the Beach Drive entrance to Willows Park. (Kevin Murdoch Photo)
Influx of donated art a ‘fantastic problem to have,’ says Oak Bay mayor

Oak Bay goes from zero to 10 permanent art pieces since 2015

Stephen Laidlaw, prepator with Nanaimo Art Gallery, hangs a photograph of Anna Wong, a B.C. print maker whose works are on display at the gallery. The exhibit opens Friday, Dec. 4, and runs until Feb. 7. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo Art Gallery exhibit explores life work of overlooked B.C. printmaker

‘Anna Wong: Traveller on Two Roads’ features more than 70 art works and personal belongings

Nanaimo rappers Konfidential and Teus released their first joint album, <em>The Invasion</em>. (Photo courtesy Raymond Knight)
Nanaimo rappers Konfidential and Teus release first joint album

Duo plan elaborate live-streamed CD release for ‘The Invasion’

Next month Nanaimo musician Spencer Hiemstra releases his solo debut album, ‘Wildlife.’ (Photo submitted)
Nanaimo musician Spencer Hiemstra releases solo debut album

New record ‘Wildlife’ about taking chances and going through changes

Dover Bay Secondary School student Victoria Hathfield’s poem <em>Dear Santa</em> appears in<em> Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas is in the Air</em>. (Photo courtesy Darren Lee)
Nanaimo high schooler has first poem published in ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’

Victoria Hathfield’s ‘Dear Santa’ appears in new Christmas-themed edition of anthology series

Nanaimo graphic designer Amy Pye has written and illustrated her first children’s book, <em>G is for Grizzly Bear: A Canadian Alphabet</em>. (Photo courtesy Amy Pye)
Nanaimo graphic designer releases first children’s book

Amy Pye teaches the Canadian alphabet in ‘G is for Grizzly Bear’

The Vancouver Island Symphony’s Back Row Brass Quintet – including trumpeter Mark D’Angelo, tuba player Nick Atkinson and French horn player Karen Hough (from left) – were scheduled to tour the Nanaimo area with Christmas Under the Big Tent, but the concert series has now been cancelled. (Photo courtesy HA Photography)
Symphony brass quintet’s Christmas concert series cancelled

Performances were to happen at venues in Parksville and Lantzville next month

The Sheringham Point Lighthouse, near Shirley. (Contributed - Lee-Ann Ruttan)
New book shines a light on Sheringham Point Lighthouse

Publication examines history, lightkeepers, and volunteer society

Victoria-based guitarist Eric Harper performs at the Port Theatre on Nov. 27. (Photo credit Tatum Duryba)
Classical guitarist to play at the Port Theatre

Eric Harper to play new songs composed during the pandemic

Most Read