Category Archives: Birch Bark

Have Some More Coffee

Birch Bark Drawing | Saltwater Birch Studio

Another Monday. Another week. Part of my brain wants to go into faux-super-optimism mode, like let this be the best week in your life, and each week will be better than the last! You’re going to be ridiculously super productive! Be the change you want to see! Then, I remember I have 4 hours of shovelling snow under my belt, and another 3 to go (thank you back-to-back snowstorms!). And that I haven’t gotten much Vitamin D lately. And it’s Monday.

Birch Bark Drawings | Saltwater Birch Studio

I have no real solution for such days, except have some more coffee, and maybe stay away from the Chris Traegers in your life (there’s little that makes you feel worse than being pessimistic around a person who permanently radiates positivity). Especially when, in your fog of pessimism, any inkling of optimism comes across as a charade on the edge of crumbling, and you’re tempted to give it a push. Ok. Maybe not that extreme.

Birch Bark Drawing | Saltwater Birch Studio

But we all have those days. And while it – your attitude, how you see the world, and your place in it – is a choice, it’s also not completely realistic to just say, think positive, be positive, embody optimism.

Aiming for middle ground, for a stoic approach to life, may be more attainable. To know awful moods and terrible events will pass, but so will euphoric and truly wonderful moments. You can’t banish foul moods, but you can see them for what they are: on a continuum of human experience, and constantly fluctuating. 

PS. I’ve just introduced these new birch bark sketches in my shop.


Festive Creatures and Raking Revelations

I’ve been drawing away lately, preparing for a craft show next week.

November Drawings by Saltwater Birch Studio

Doing sketches on birch bark, and watercolor paper (using my lovely Microns), while I contemplate what to paint on these new wooden panels (I’ll post the results later this week!).

Drawings by Saltwater Birch Studio

I tend to sketch in hundreds of little lines, slowly building up the layers. It’s not as time-consuming as it sounds (at least when you’ve had tons of practice),  It’s a process that works really well for capturing fur (though not human faces, unless they’re very hairy).

I also did a lot of raking over the past several weeks (recall the jack-of-all-trades aspect of most art occupations), and I couldn’t resist taking a few photographs.

Saltwater Birch Studio

There’s something to be said for working with your hands. Of coming home physically exhausted, too tired to speak, yet happy. Gazing about contentedly, I imagine myself looking like a wise, all-knowing Buddhist, smiling slowly at others’ quips; in reality I probably looked more like a mental patient released into the wild.

Saltwater Birch Studio

Though I did realize that zen gardening and farming have a few things in common: repetitive hard labor, repeated rhythmically, cyclically, while clearing the mind and misplacing trivial worries. Oh, and if you are wondering, yes, every muscle in my body is still screaming reproachfully.

How To Peel Birch Bark

IMGP5495Peeling birch bark is surprisingly simple.  All you need is a utility knife, and a tree.

Make a vertical cut, however long you want the piece to be…


….and by cut, I mean use the blade part of the knife – for, if you’re like me, Common Sense likes to take regular strolls along the beach. In the meantime, someone should probably take that knife away from you at this point (at least until CS is back from its walk).

Peeling Birch Bark by Saltwater Birch Studio

Once you have the vertical cut, peel the rest with your hand – no need to use a knife for the horizontal part, as the bark will peel itself (and if you just breathed a sigh of’re not alone. Think of it as one less opportunity to accidentally stab yourself!)

Then comes the fun part!

Drawing, doodling, painting… or biting (a traditional Native art form where they bite a pattern into thin bark takes some serious chomping skills…I haven’t tried it but it’s fascinating to watch).

Birch Bark Drawings by Saltwater Birch Studio

Different types of birch bark:

Gray birch (above): harder to peel, impossible to separate layers. Being readily available in New Brunswick, I’ve used this type of tree a lot in my bark drawings. The surface is a little flaky, and very rough on your pens (it tends to ruin the tip)…I’ve had many casualties in my dwindling Micron stock. Best for use with markers, charcoal, or garden variety ink.

White/paper/canoe birch (below): on mature trees, it’s possible to peel each individual layer. The surface looks yellow/orange, and is very smooth – good for using your archival ink, and oil paint. This bark is also waterproof, which means ink (or paint) won’t soak through or run.


One last thing: Be aware of peeling bark from living trees. I try to avoid this, by only using dead trees (those uprooted by storm surges, or that I find in a neighbour’s woodpile). Bark is essentially a tree’s skin – peeling the skin off of a living tree can leave it open to the elements (and possible infection), so you may end up killing it (and let’s face it – no one can afford bad karma these days).

Happy Barking!