By Josh Saunders
An artist has spent 15 years bracing barbaric winds, risking hypothermia and blistering sunburn to p-p-paint with penguins.
David McEown, 55, from Vancouver, Canada, spends up to eight hours a day working in the challenging conditions that can see him battle wind, rain, snow and sandstorms.
The landscape painter starts in the Falkland Islands before heading down to South Georgia and Antarctica to document the ever-changing landscapes and wildlife populations.
During his sessions he sets up a safe distance away from penguins, elephant seals and other animals, to capture the scenery and weaves the creatures into his work.
Often, he is interrupted by curious penguins who peck at his easel, rummage through his paint pots and stare at his work – appearing to ‘judge’ the pieces like ‘art critics’.
He believes the monochrome birds think he’s a ‘big penguin’ while he documents them among his picturesque backdrops – ranging from mountains to sunsets, glaciers and more.
David said: “My main motivations are the wonder and sheer joy of experiencing these creatures, studying the change in these environments, and the technical and aesthetic challenge of painting it all.
“I’m a landscape painting and the penguins come in and out of that, I like how the penguins interconnect with the landscapes.
“They are moving around, flapping and it’s really difficult, it’s a lot of fun compared to a stage landscape or something non-moving.
“I set myself up and don’t approach them, respecting the five-metre rule, but once I’m settled, they come right up to me.
“They look under my easel, tap on my tripod and in very few times go into the paint pots, then they waddle off to do their thing.
“They are sociable animals, they congregate and hang out, so think I’m a ‘big penguin’ or something, it’s pretty comical – at times it looks like they are critiquing my work.
“I have had them all around me and often you can see their courtships happening in front of you.
“The most funny thing is to watch them crash land out of the water right in front of me, they are really surprised that I’m sitting there.
“I believe I’m there in these places as a witness and I go there with respect and gratitude.
“From there hopefully the penguins and other creatures allow me within these wonderful landscapes and the impressions come through to tell the story of these amazing places.”
David has been painting for 30 years but became fascinated by the changes in our environment and decided to document them ‘while they are still there to watch’.
As a conservationist and environmentalist his intrigue has led him to spend a third of each year travelling to the polar regions for the last 15 years.
But with plenty of challenges, the unpredictable weather conditions have required to David to learn a few tactics and put his wilderness safety training into practice.
He regularly dons six layers including a specialist sailing jacket, uses handwarmers, stays hydrated, and plenty of sun-cream to avoid getting burned.
He said: “The winds can be hand-numbingly cold and sometimes the paint will freeze, which I like as ice-crystals form on the paper but other times the pallet and paintbrush will turn to ice.
“Sunburn – due to little ozone layer in the Antarctic early season – and snow blindness have been challenging occasionally too.”
To follow his journey visit: http://www.davidmceown.com/