ARTIST Arnold Shives still takes his sketch book with him when he hikes the North Shore trails.
It's a habit he started when he was just 10 years old.
"I enjoyed the outdoors and going hiking, so I'd take a sketch pad along or a small canvas and oil paints," he recalls. "It was pleasurable for me to commit to paper or canvas or board images, things that I saw, and make these things pleasing to the eye."
Shives started by sketching lakes and trees on small canvases, 12-by-18 inches and smaller. In his teens he expanded his work onto larger canvas, but not before he sold about 80 of his small watercolours and oils by the time he was 15. The buyer was his friend, who was the same age. His friend paid from 25 cents to $2.50 for each piece. That was in the late 1950s.
Forty years later, Shives is still painting naturethemed pieces and is especially known for his mountain landscapes. That motif has its roots in the artist's love of mountaineering. Although he admits he doesn't climb many mountains these days, he did in his teens and 20s, and still regularly heads into the North Shore mountains, not far from his North Vancouver home.
"My later work in general has tended not so much to be mountains but more nature-based, simply because I'm closer to nature, the forest," explains Shives.
"I'd have to put in some serious time to get into the alpine (now). If I wanted to go up into the alpine either I'd rent a helicopter or I'd spend a few days getting back into that country," he says with a laugh.
Over the years, Shives' work has expanded to include printmaking and sculpture.
"That's probably my hardest decision: what to work on. I'd like to be working on it all at the same time, including the sculptural pieces, paintings and block prints," he says.
"In a sense for me it isn't all that different. It's sort of a natural transition from painting into creating etchings and lino-cut prints and so on. Same imagery, same impulse. It's just that the restraints of these printmaking techniques bring out different aspects. That's what excited me. Not the fact that I can reproduce an image. It was more just the excitement of unveiling or revealing new ideas, new visual ideas and exploration really."
Working in different mediums has been part of his growth as an artist.
"As the decades click by one finds that experimentation has taken place. You can't keep doing the same thing over and over again. I've tried different mediums and different techniques, scale: small and large."
Although many things in his life have changed since he painted his first landscapes as a child, the inspiration for his work has mainly stayed the same.
"To a surprising degree not that much," he says when asked how much his inspiration has changed over the years. He says he tries to remember the days when he wandered around the woods as a child with his sketchbook in hand. It was a time when he "had no grand illusions," he says.
"An artist can be carried away by a feeling of selfimportance, which it seems to me is contrary to the whole thing," he adds. "It's more a question of enjoying doing it and then the pleasure itself inspires a person to do more and do it more often and with more enthusiasm and you start getting better."
Not long ago, Shives bought back the collection of small canvasses he sold to his friend when he was a kid. The friend had fallen on hard financial times and gave the artist a good price on the works. Looking at the early pieces now, Shives says some of them were pretty good.
"I see some of the same themes," he says.
It's not surprising he shares themes with his younger self since the older artist still regularly hikes into the mountains, sketchbook in hand.
"That's always a source of ideas for me. Very few of these sketches actually end up as finished works, but I still regard it as an important component of my way of operating as an artist. If nothing else just eye-hand co-ordination. It keeps that working," he says with a laugh.
A number of Shives' bestknown mountain-themed paintings have recently been collected into a retrospective book called Alpine Anatomy: The Mountain Art of Arnold Shives.
To coincide with the book launch, Simon Fraser University's Teck Gallery is featuring a small exhibition of Shives' prints on loan from the Burnaby Art Gallery until Aug. 30. The book is available at MacLeod's Books on Pender Street in Vancouver; online at www.alibris.com, and is slated to be available in more stores in the near future.
For more information about Arnold Shives and his work, visit his website at www.ashives. com.