Shorebird artist explores birding through sound

  • Erin Rae D’Eimon stands by one of her paintings at the First Friday opening for her show on May 4, 2018 at the Homer Council on the Arts in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
  • Erin Rae D’Eimon’s painting for the 26th annual Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival features a greater yellowlegs towering over Iliamna Volcano. (Photo provided)

Featured artists for the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival sometimes tend toward the Roger Tory Peterson side of the field — nerdy naturalists who paint with crisp precision. Every year the Kachemak Shorebird Festival commissions an artist to create a painting or sketch of a bird to be used on its program, posters and clothing.

This year’s featured artist, Erin Rae D’Eimon of Homer, brings a birder’s eye and ear to her art.

D’Eimon, 34, took a few classes at West Anchorage High School, the University of Alaska Anchorage and Blaine’s Art Supply, but she mostly developed her craft and talent through the classic method of practice, practice, practice.

“Lots of painting is how I learned to paint,” she said on Monday in a phone interview from her East End Road home.

Raised in Anchorage, D’Eimon moved here three years ago. Her grandmother, Betty Jean Henderson, was an artist, and both parents, Claudia Henley and Patrick D’Eimon, are musicians.

“It’s just something I’ve always done,” D’Eimon said of her creative upbringing. “We’re an artsy family.”

In her short time in Homer, D’Eimon has quickly made her mark on the local arts scene. She has shown her art at K-Bay Caffe, Two Sisters Bakery, Fireweed Gallery and now at the Homer Council on the Arts. Her work exhibits at HCOA through the end of the month.

Most of D’Eimon’s HCOA exhibit features birds. She adds texture to her paintings with fluid images of bubbles and pebbles. In her shorebird festival painting of a greater yellowlegs, for example, the longlegged bird stands on a stone splattered beach before a backdrop of Mount Iliamna, a scene she saw when she ran along the Anchor Point beach.

“That was the beach I thought of when I thought of shorebirds,” she said. “I thought it would be cool because they have such goofy long legs to have it towering over a huge volcano in the background.”

Circular shapes are a common theme in her paintings, but in some cases they bring an aural element to her work. In a large painting of a snipe, bubbles trail the snipe as it dives, a movement called winnowing.

The wind rustling over a snipe’s feathers makes an eerie, haunting sound. On a quiet spring night, dozens of snipes can be heard as they dive.

They’re a bird hard to see but distinct in their call.

Bird calls and sounds first attracted D’Eimon to birding when she started seriously about 5 years ago while living outside Anchorage in Indian Valley. She found the quiet of the Chugach Mountains made bird songs more noticeable.

“What drew me to birds in general is their songs,” D’Eimon said. “I really like picking out their songs. I started painting birds and then I started painting what their songs looked like.”

It’s a technique similar to synesthesia, the sensory perspective some people have where they see colors when they hear sounds, especially music.

“I think of them more as shapes,” D’Eimon said. “… Sometimes they are more in the background and part of the layering process. Sometimes I have them right up front as the sound or the movement. It takes me a long while to come up how I feel about them. I have to listen to birds a lot. Its a whole process.”

That aural connection shows a side of birding people outside the hobby sometimes don’t think of — that birding can mean listening as much as it does looking. When a small brown bird flitters around in a thick forest, sometimes it can only be heard, or its sound leads to finding the bird.

“I remember just being with the birds,” D’Eimon said of when she first started birding. “Usually I’m outside drinking coffee with myself.”

D’Eimon said she doesn’t have the obsession of some birders who try to build life lists and go to great lengths to track down a rare bird.

“I’m more interested in identifying their songs, just keeping note of year after year after year when they come, where I hear them, when I see them,” she said. “I like to know the birds more. But listening to them year after year, I like that better.”

Like many Homer artists, D’Eimon has yet to make her living solely from painting.

She helps pay the bills by working at coffee shops, and lives the classic dry-cabin lifestyle.

“The painting, I’ll never stop doing it, but it’s not the most reliable of income sources,” she said. “… Slowly but surely I will get a following. I just need to keep painting.”

Being picked as the shorebird festival artist has given her career a boost, she said.

“This is definitely the biggest thing that’s happened to me as an artist so far,” D’Eimon said. “I’ve had lots of shows in Anchorage and here, but nothing like this. It’s been a lot of fun that I got to do this, to represent as a birder and an artist. It’s a combination of my favorite things, to be seen as a bird artist.”

For more of D’Eimon’s images, follow her on Instagram @erinraeart.

Reach Michael Armstrong at marmstrong@homernews.com.

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