Local artist and photographer Jennifer Ellis has “gone to the birds” with her latest photo series, “Birds of the Sierra Valley,” available for viewing through December at 190 No. 3 South Gulling in Portola.
Ellis has been a resident of the area for two years, coming from the Petaluma area.
“I have traveled around for 20 years looking for a place like this,” Ellis said when asked what brought her to Plumas County.
“It’s been heaven to me. I didn’t know anyone when I moved here, but since I have been a resident, I have never been happier.” Ellis noted that she was attracted to this area as an opportunity that others might see as a “dead end,” and her only question to herself about the move is, “Why did I wait so long? This place has everything that I need and inspires me on a daily basis.”
Ellis started on her artistic path at University of California, Santa Barbara, when she declared herself an art major. Her lifelong love for art in many mediums developed as she learned to capture images on film and develop them in the college darkroom, as well as experimenting with oil and acrylic painting.
“I find magic in art and life,” Ellis said with a smile. “Since I started traveling around the areas between Portola and Packer Lake, I have discovered a wealth of wildlife in the area, which is completely unbelievable.
“On my daily explorations, I am overwhelmed by how much there is to see here — even driving past the same place multiple times is an adventure, because I never see the same scene twice.”
Ellis has been focusing the lens of her Nikon XP900 on the wildlife of Sierra Valley for the past year, with special attention paid to the winged creatures of the valley.
“The birds really caught my eye,” she continued. “Birds are so quick to disappear that it makes shooting photos of them a challenge. I like the challenge it presents and I always look forward to the excitement of getting a good shot. With animals, especially birds, it really is about being in the right place at the right time.”
Ellis seems to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time, as she has captured intimate images of everything from eagles preparing to take flight to the nest of a pair of tiny, quizzical burrowing owls.
“I literally drive around with my camera in my lap,” Ellis said. “Most of my photos, particularly the birds of Sierra Valley, are what I call ‘drive-by shootings.’ I try not to be invasive when I am getting photos, but I will say that it takes many photos before I get those few perfect images. It really is a matter of letting the camera do the work, as I have learned from watching National Geographic photographers.”
Ellis has been connecting with the Plumas County Audubon Society as she has continued to explore the world of birds in the area, learning about migrant birds and their patterns as well as being invited to a special golden eagle banding class with the Audubon Society on Dec. 8.
“It’s all very serendipitous,” Ellis said, “as I am becoming more involved with the birds, I am constantly learning and my photography is really blossoming.
“I find that this photography is a great way of utilizing personal expression, with the ability to use natural elements to capture the beauty of the fleeting moment.”
Ellis has been doing more than capturing these fleeting moments of beauty in the Sierra Valley in the past year.
“I initially started doing this because I love to, and while I do it for myself, I am finding that others appreciate my work as well.”
Ellis had a series of train-related photographs on display prior to Birds of the Sierra Valley called “BoxCar Art,” which was displayed during the 2016 Railroad Days celebration in Portola.
Now, Ellis wants to give local artists and art lovers a place to learn and produce art.
“I have been working with local Realtor Linda Hadley of Hadley Real Estate Services to get into a work space, and by early spring in 2017, I plan on moving into an open working studio space in the Portola Plaza.
“This would be a place where people can see art in progress, as I do paint as well, with the possibility of opening the doors for children and adults that would like to discover and explore the wonders of art. All art forms lend to each other, in my opinion.”
When asked what advice she would give to aspiring artists and photographers, she responded, “First of all, don’t think that you have to be ‘good’ at art to do it. Just start doing it. Keep taking pictures, and learn to compose the shot in your camera — take the photo that you want. I don’t use Photoshop or any other methods to re-touch or edit the photos I get, I just let the inspiration come and let the camera do the work.”
Ellis has some of her work available for purchase in addition to the series available for viewing in Portola. Her art is sold at Smithneck Farms in Sierraville, Happy Hunting Ground in Graeagle and Stuff’n’Things in Loyalton.
For more information about the Birds of the Sierra Valley series or other questions about her art, contact Jennifer Ellis at 707-779-9877.