Ian Sheldon is a writer, artist and natural scientist. His work has been featured in more than 30 books, includingCambridge Footsteps, a collection of watercolours of the campus where he completed his bachelor's degree in wildlife biology.
His latest release, Storm Chaser, is a collection of the Edmonton-based artist's skyscape paintings of the prairies. To capture weather phenomena, he chases storms - hence the title - and photographs them for source material on which to base his paintings.
He tells Canadian Geographic how prairie skies have been his muse for the past 12 years.
Q. What elements of a particular storm make for good subject matter?
I am looking for interesting light, interesting texture. What I really like is not the really, really massive storms when everything goes black. I like to be on the edges of smaller storms because you get much more variation in light - high contrasts like light filtering through rain and intense colors. So I very much like skirting around a storm, driving into it for a quick session and then driving out of it again.
Q. Is the translation from photos to canvas a literal one?
No. It is impressionistic. People can identify the subject, but let's say I have a four by six inch photograph; I might actually be going into the photograph and pulling out one square inch that works as a painting. So that one little corner of the photograph may be what I derive the painting from.
Q. You have lived in both Europe and Africa. What drew you to the prairies in particular?
I was born in the prairies and raised in flat land for most of my life, but I travel around quite a bit. I think I was absolutely fascinated by meteorology at the same time. I also have this spiritual need for wide-open spaces. [Through] those two in conjunction and my practice as an artist, I ended up realizing there was a convergence happening. Painting weather on the prairies was sort of the ultimate evolution to the path that I was on.
Q. Do you think we take our landscape for granted?
Enormously. I think enormously. There is this presumption that because we are in Canada we have so much wilderness, so much space. And the reality is that we are such an urban society. How many people actually get out of the city and go and enjoy the wilderness around them? We almost just ignore it. There is complacency - we just live our urban routines.
Q. The book celebrates the prairies - a landscape that when people drive across the country they try to just speed through. How to you get people to appreciate the prairies in particular?
People are all about high drama. High impact. The bigger the impact, the more worthy of attention and that is why the mountains always get a 'wow' reaction. It's loud landscape. The prairies are quiet landscape, and there is beauty in subtlety. We live in such a loud culture: everything is just super bright, super noisy, super fast and the prairies are the antithesis of our contemporary society.
Storm Chaser: A Q&A with artist Ian Sheldon