While reading The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant, one of the initial themes that stood out to me is the relationship between nature and humans and the changing balance of power between the two over time. Near the beginning of the book, nature is shown to have a lot of power of humans and is an object of fear to them. As the book develops, however, some humans begin to go against nature through clearcutting and, overall, treating it as a commodity. This is contrasted by the indigenous approach, which is to share the power with nature and live in equilibrium. As the book continues to develop, the golden spruce is cut down. Despite its death, it still wields power over many people, most notably the Haida, as it has now become a source of spiritual power and its death unites everyone against Grant Hadwin. To represent this, I have created 4 sketches that depict this relationship’s development over time.
The first piece in this series is named Grown Over and Absorbed after a quote from page 8 of The Golden Spruce. In this drawing, the initial relationship between nature and humans is introduced as nature holding much physical power over humans. Likewise, this is mirrored by the first chapter of the book which discusses how the forest can be “totally disorienting once inside” (8) or how the Hecate Strait can easily explode from a flat calm to eighteen-metre waves” (14). This idea can also be found in the second chapter of Vaillant’s book as it discusses how dangerous the forest is to loggers as it can result in death in a multitude of ways, including but not limited to being crushed, kickback from falling trees, and unstable ground. In this picture, I have used two elements to further enforce the meaning behind this drawing: size and value. The fact that the tree as much larger than the person forces the person to seem weaker and lesser than. In addition, the fact that the tree has darker values whereas the person is left completely white makes the viewer see nature as the villain of the situation and something to be feared.
Following, we have Biting its Way Through the Forest Vast, named after a line from an excerpt from “The Song of the Axe” by Margaret Horsfield on page 81. This drawing shows one way in which humans were able to tame nature and take back some of the power again. “The English were the first to systematically exploit [the timber]” (81) and logging became a way that people began to control forests. This is mirrored by my next piece, titled Woven Web after a section on page 57. This sketch shows how the indigenous people took a different approach to subduing nature, which was to find a way to share the power with it and live in balance. They were able to live within the forest without overexploiting the resources that existed in their region. These two drawings together help represent another prominent theme in the book, which is one of dichotomy. Throughout the story, Vaillant draws comparisons between concepts, such as land and water, loggers and city folk, and the Europeans and the Haida, in order to emphasize dichotomy. By putting these two drawings together, I am not just juxtaposing the meaning behind each drawing but the techniques that I used. For example, in my former drawing, I utilised oblique lines to give a sense of combat and confusion and emphasized the blacks of the picture to show how their way is worse when compared to the latter drawing where I used horizontal lines for a sense of calm and tranquility and allowed for more white space to show through.
My final drawing is titled Fallout of a Drive-by Shootin, named after what many of the locals thought after Grown Over and Absorbed to show how the human-nature relationship has changed in such a short span of time. This drawing shows that, even after being cut down, the golden spruce still holds much power, no longer in a physical sense but in a more spiritual one, as it was the heart of many different populations. It was “capable of uniting Natives, loggers, and environmentalists” (139). In this picture, I wanted to use contrasting elements to portray how nature is just an innocent victim. For example, I have switched the size and value relationship between the tree and the humans. The now-small size combined with the white shade of the tree serve to drive home the idea that it is the humans who are the real villains of the situation whereas trees and nature are the casualties of the logging industry.
Overall, these four drawings portray the ever-changing power changes between two forces, which we can still observe in our world as we continue to struggle between expansion and restoration. Although the message of a couple of the sketches could have more clarity and thought put in, I am still proud of the way I was able to represent what I believed to be a central theme of the story using both the literal meaning of the drawing combined with the artistic techniques behind them and the process of creating this drawing series has been linchpin to helping me understand the events of the story and what they actually mean in the greater context of life.