North Coast Journal



Art from the left brain

by Marie Gravelle

Considering what she does for a living, it's amazing Linda Parkinson isn't completely bonkers. She's a wildlife artist. That makes her a detail woman.

Her intricate finished products are watercolor on canvas, but they look fully capable of flying, butting, scratching and biting. Using photographs as models, Parkinson doesn't mess with nature. If a hawk has 12 intricate tail feathers in real life, it has 12 feathers in Parkinson's painting. If most leopards have 602 spots, Parkinson's rendition is exact. As is the multi-colored rock the animal is posed upon.

The 39-year-old artist works out of her home in the hills behind Arcata. Her two young children have their own artwork on the walls of mom's upstairs studio and seem to enjoy the family's artistic side.

But they also watch her wander the house, eyes glazed over after painting grass for three hours. They see recent works hanging in the kitchen or hallway at unusual angles.

"My kids say, 'Mom, why is the fox hanging upside down?'" Parkinson laughed. It's a technique she uses to discover flaws.

But her children? "They think mom's been sitting alone in the studio too long."

And maybe she has, but this perfectionist has got to be on her toes. Wildlife painting has a built-in neurosis factor: There are biologists lurking in the shadows.

"People will count the feathers," she said. "You'd be amazed how many people will catch even little mistakes."

Living on a big spread, Parkinson and her landscape professional husband settled here more than a decade ago. It was her love of the wild that brought her here, and has kept her painting.

"After living in Southern California and back east, I realized I didn't want to live in a big city," she said.

For those who subscribe to the notion that people are either right-brained or left-brained, Parkinson is a fluke.

A science major in college, she appeared to be following in the footsteps of her scientist father. But her mother and grandmother, who were artists, were her greatest influence. Combine these with Parkinson's cozy side: "I have this thing about animals," she said, and you get an artist with an eye for the technical.

Artists like to make distinctions about their work and the work of others. Some consider Parkinson's work "illustration" rather than art. But her customers don't seem to care what you call it.

"I like to see wildlife up close," said Bruce Braly, owner of Humboldt's Finest, where much of Parkinson's work is on display."People like her vibrant colors and her technique and accuracy."

Ranging in price from $100 to $1,000, Parkinson's work isn't making her wealthy yet, but she said she's "breaking even." At least it's better than the portrait painting she did in college.

"People have an idea what they want in a portrait," she said. "And it's not always what I'd paint." One buyer wanted all the colors changed -- after the painting was finished. Another wanted something not quite so realistic.

Hanging in her home now are stunning relics of her portrait past. Using photographs as guides, Parkinson used charcoal to depict several Native Americans in a compelling light.

But most of her walls are covered with animals and birds. She and her family can't help but get attached to her work.

"My kids were really upset when I sold a porcupine painting," she said. It was a family favorite and hung in a place of honor.

"It's nice to sell to friends," Parkinson added, "because then I can go visit them." By "them," she means the paintings.

One of the reasons she feels a need to sell her art is to reach a personal goal set years ago. "I asked myself, 'How can I generate money for wildlife causes? How can this single voice make an impact and change things?'"

Her answer was to paint the creatures she wants appreciated and protected.

She works on five to 10 major paintings a year. It can take her up to six months to complete one large painting.

Each year Parkinson donates her talent to several organizations concerned with the world's wildlife populations, including Arcata's Northcoast Environmental Center.

She is showing her work at the Plaza Grill in Arcata. The two-woman show with wildlife artist Paula Golightly runs through Dec. 2. Parkinson's work is also on display at Humboldt's Finest in Old Town Eureka, and through December at SHN Engineering in Eureka, as part of the Ink People Alternative Gallery exhibits.

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