Vancouver Island artist sees beyond the driftwood

Wayne Paquin artist creates unique art out of freshwater driftwood

Wayne Paquin’s reason for pursuing driftwood art and the name of his business are one and the same, and for good reason.

“I just drifted into it,” the Qualicum Beach artist explained of his artistic endeavor called “Just Drifting.”

Wayne and his wife Marguerite were out exploring the area between their home and Courtenay, and their interest was piqued by a place called Fanny Bay Driftwood, a unique location stocked with driftwood collected from numerous freshwater locations. The man responsible for hand picking all the driftwood is Alan Morgan.

“We kept saying we have to stop in at Alan’s place. So, one day we finally did, and the rest is history,” said Wayne. He added that he and his wife love visiting the property, as it feels like an adventure every time.

As Wayne described the pieces he has encountered at Fanny Bay Driftwood, his eyes lit up, revealing that there are hundreds to choose from, collected from a network of about 20 different freshwater locations.

When choosing his pieces, Wayne said he doesn’t initially know what it will become, but he recognizes something in it. “It’s the process that says what it wants to be,” he explained.

Once he takes it home, one piece can take anywhere from 10 to 50 hours to complete.

Although he has always been an artist, Wayne didn’t always devote that much time to his craft. In fact, he said he didn’t actually know he was an artist in his early days. Years ago, Wayne worked as a gas contractor that specialized in unique renovations in commercial spaces. He was called in to modify systems. “That satisfied my artistic ability because I have to connect my hand and my brain,” he explained. “I built sculptures out of copper pipe and sheet metal and things like that to complete the project, and I dabbled in a few other [artistic] things.”

But when he met his wife Marguerite everything changed, he said. He was assigned through his employer to go to her house and fix her fireplace, and the two had an instant connection. With a doctorate in multicultural art education, one of Marguerite’s specialties is helping people bring out their creative spirit, he explained.

While working with master’s program students on creative projects some years ago, Wayne joined in, creating computer animations for her student’s projects. Wayne said Marguerite has also recognized some of his other artistic capabilities over the years and helped him realize them. Recently the couple has collaborated on some of the driftwood pieces.

Wayne begins a driftwood project by power washing it and then bleaching it lightly to get rid of any critters. He then leaves it to dry, which can take anywhere from a week to a month. Freshwater driftwood, he explained, dries quicker than saltwater driftwood. And there are other notable differences.

“There’s a huge difference,” he explained. “Wood carvers don’t like working with saltwater driftwood because it’s full of debris, [including] sand, which can be hard on tools.” He added that saltwater driftwood is full of organisms and the chemistry of the water makes the wood go spongy.

After the pieces are dry, he sands them down, taking care not to manipulate the wood more than necessary. At this point he will name it, and that name generally arises naturally, he explained.

Wayne likes to bring out the grain in the wood, and he says there’s a bit of mystery involved because he doesn’t know what kind of wood he’s dealing with, at least initially. Depending on what type of tree it is, it will react differently to the finish applied, so one piece may be shiny, while another is matte, even though it went through the same process.

Several pieces have been embellished with crushed, stained or fused glass, gemstones, jewelry, shells or wood. He also works with stones, like one piece adorned with kyanite, said to be a peaceful, rebalancing stone. He surrounded it with silver clay, which he formed and baked in a kiln, exposing the silver. After he polished it, he made some clay into a paste and painted it back on to the finished product “to give it a magic touch.”

Wayne also creates sterling silver pendants, mostly which are day signs from the Mayan calendar, using the lost wax casting process. “Basically, I’ll carve an image out of wax and then go through a process where I then transform it into sterling silver pendants.” These can take around 20 hours depending on how intricate the design is. His wife Marguerite works with the Mayan Calendar and does Mayan birth energy readings.

Wayne said he feels like his art pieces are his kids and they must be born. He refers to his Metis ancestry which says once the pieces are made, they need time to “be born” before being presented to the public. He finds the driftwood pieces are very soothing to sit with, even meditative, and it forces people to look and feel a little differently, he said.

Wayne says he hopes his work reminds people how connected we are to the natural world.

“I can’t tell you how many times people have said, ‘Oh, I would have passed that by on the beach, it’s just a piece of driftwood, but now, you have shown me it’s more than that.’ That’s so gratifying,” he said.

Wayne also does commission work. To view some of his work visit his website www.ladyrainbowspirit.com/Pages/driftwood.html , email him at lady_rainbow@telus.net or call him at 250-752-2720.

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