Sometimes a series comes together from a few different directions. Over the past few months, an important part of my daily routine has been watching all the different birds that land in my yard. I received a bird feeder at Christmas and another at Mother's Day and they are stationed where one can sit with a cup of coffee to enjoy the ongoing drama. Needless to say, my yard is teeming with all sorts of interesting species and a continual source of inspiration. That was the beginning of this series.
Recently, I've been resorting my art supply storage areas and uncovering all sorts of treasure. One of those has been a stash of handmade Etchu card. Named after the region in Japan that it is made in, it is a thick, creamy, decadent paper. All four sides have a natural deckle edge and you can clearly see the kozo fibres in the texture. I've been itching for a little project to try it out on.
In my sorting, I came across the above pictured sketchbook. The bird and the circle triggered an idea that blossomed into the series I'm working on. Although the image is 10 years old, it felt really new to me because I hadn't sat down and properly explored the idea way back then (working a day job, little elementary school kids and painting for Etsy consumed most of my time in those days). Once these three elements came together, the series just unfolded effortlessly. Once they are dry I will sign and edition them then let you know where you can get your hands on one!
This batch of tea towels has been a long time coming. I've been pecking away at it in stages as my busy summer allowed. Dye a batch, prep a batch, print a colour and so on. Finally, these are all heat set and ready to go! All my popular themes are here, squirrels, birds, bees, flowers and leaves. If there is one you have your eye on, contact me fast - the rest will be heading to my stockists!
Each cloth is custom dyed by me, stamped using hand carved blocks with hand mixed ink colours. Each one is one of a kind and has been stamped approximately 24 - 30 times per cloth. (it's a labour of love!) They can be used in a number of ways: tea towels, scarves, receiving blankets, bread basket liners or for a beautiful one of a kind hostess or teacher gift. Flour sack cloth improve with age and use, becoming softer and more luxurious with every use. It is not uncommon to see a flour sack tea towel in regular use for over a decade.
I am really proud of this little book.
I have been wanting to make some properly bound books for a while now. However, something was holding me back... I realize now it was my brain tumour that was making reading and deciphering instructions really, really difficult over the past few years. It seemed that as I acquired more and more equipment made for bookbinding purposes, my ability to learn new stuff started to decline. Even reading recipes started to get so frustrating as I couldn't hold on to the order of the steps or the ingredients at the top of the page, So this idea sat dormant while my interest and equipment grew.
Things I already knew how to do didn't cause any problems (and probably contributed to why my issues didn't get discovered earlier). Repeating things over and over, or making a whole bunch of the same type of thing helped me keep learning when my reading abilities started to fade. I was also good at learning while watching someone show me each step. Although, when new tools and terms were mentioned, I had a really hard time actually saying the new words - I couldn't spit them out. I knew the words, I just couldn't bridge the gap between my mind and my tongue. I also tended to get lost with too many steps, causing me to retrace and retrace.
I already knew how to do linocut printmaking, I've also been printing on fabric for a few years. Cutting paper and measuring stuff is second nature. Those parts of this project was like a duck taking to water. What intimidated me was the stitching. I have a hard time looking at diagrams for knots and origami already. Throw in brain surgery and muddled illustrations... I felt kind of lost.
So I decided to just take it one step at a time. I started with the easy stuff I already knew and once those things looked pretty good, I tackled the binding part.
The funny thing was - the pictures totally made sense. I'm finding that when I read instructions now, they are very clear and straightforward to my newly healed brain. This time last year, I would have gotten mad or irritated with every step. I kept expecting to get stumped only to realize that it all made sense. That was really cool.
So I breezed through it. It worked. I started to revise the steps so that the next one is better. I'm very excited about all this!
If all this linocut printing, block printing on fabric stuff is intriguing you (and you live around Calgary) why don't you join me for one of my upcoming classes or demonstrations?
Saturday, September 22nd, I'll be at Inglewood Art Supplies teaching a one day workshop on linocut printmaking.
Saturday, September 29th, I'll be at the Leighton Art Centre demonstrating my block printing on Fabric for Alberta Culture days.
November 10th and 11th, I'll be at the Leighton Art Centre doing an intensive 2 day workshop all about linocut block printing on fabric.
For more info or to sign up, click the links or visit my home page.
Summer has passed through Alberta in it's usual whirlwind fashion and I noticed this morning some yellow leaves dropping from the trees. It has been really busy in our household. Kids coming and going from jobs to camp to friends places. Wonderful visits from friends and family. Short day trips and treks into the surrounding foothills. I've been puttering away steadily in my studio any moment I can, but it is mostly prepping for projects that I'll undertake when I can focus for longer stretches of time (a.k.a. back to school). While I'm mourning the passing of hot summer days, I am also yearning for routine and structure. A turning of the seasons.
One exciting thing I am looking forward to is a new partnership with Inglewood Art Supplies. They have been renovating the neighbouring space in their Bridgeland building so that they can begin to offer art classes, demonstrations and workshops. The results of their space transformation is amazing. You can really tell people who make art were behind the planning and execution of this endeavor. Tall ceilings, well equipped work stations and great lighting will make this an amazing place to teach and learn.
I will be offering a 5 week class for beginner acrylic painting that will happen on Tuesday nights from 6:30 - 8:00 pm going from September 18th to October 16th. I will also offer two different 1 day workshops at Inglewood this fall. Beginner Linocut Printmaking in September and then a Creative Art Journaling workshop in October.
In November I will be back at the fabulous Leighton Art Centre to teach a two day intensive workshop on Block Printing on Fabric - this is timed so that those who want to learn an interesting skill can practice by making a whole stack of very cool Christmas gifts if they want.
As usual, I post all my workshops, classes, demonstrations and showings on my main page - there you will find all the links you need to directly register for my classes. I really hope to see you there.
Confession. Sometimes I make stuff based off of things people tell me they really wish they could use. Often this happens during workshops or classes I teach. The above books were born from a common frustration I've heard during my sketching classes. "I love drawing, but I never know what to draw."
It is really easy to let a blank page intimidate you. It is also easy to feel overwhelmed by a big blank sketchbook. This little book is a two for one deal. It only has 20 pages and it only has twenty prompts. You could tuck this away in your backpack on a trip or you could sneak it into your purse and go to a coffee shop. Since it is only 20 pages, it is completely reasonable that you could finish this little book off over a Grande latte or a week at the beach.
The prompts are simple and vague... they are flexible to the different kinds of environments you might be in. They are suitable for any age as well, so you could easily gift one to a drawing enthusiast who would get a kick out of it.
This is a quick and loose kind of book, not a precious book. It is meant to be used as a conduit for your creativity to get you started (or restarted) and onto the next project. It is a means to an end.
I mentioned it during my drawing class today and had quite a few who wanted more details. So here they are! If you want one for yourself, please message me here and I can send you a snapshot of available covers (all the interiors are the same at the moment).
If you find one you like, I accept cash, paypal and EFT (we can figure that out via email) and for the next while, I will even mail it to you for free (Canada only - anywhere else, I can give you the cost in the email, one book is just a standard letter rate so very affordable to ship) Each book of prompts costs $11.00 CDN and is made by me!
If you like the little sketchbook idea, but don't want the prompts, I also carry a variety of blank notebooks (same size, same paper stock, same number of pages) that have one of a kind covers as well. Same free shipping in Canada applies here, these ones are priced at $9.00 each.
You can also find them in person at Bluerock Gallery in Black Diamond!
Have I told you lately how much I love my fabulous gallery, Bluerock? They are the absolute best. Not only do they carry an amazing roster of Alberta artists, the owner and staff are genuinely great people. Over the past few months they have been nothing but encouraging and supportive as I've recovered from surgery. Not only do they care about beauty and art, they care about people. (Thanks, Bluerock!)
Recently, they invited me to come and share some of the things I've been working on with my printing presses! I'm all for having a deadline, so this has been spurring me on for the past little while to get a few projects realized and make some neat new things!
On June 23rd and 24th, I'll be bringing my Kelsey table top platen press, some type and linoleum blocks with me to Black Diamond and setting up in the gallery. I'll be on hand to demonstrate how letterpresses work, answer questions and share more about all the letterpress resources available in the Calgary region. I'll also have all those things I've been working on recently available for sale too!
If you'd like more information, you can find it here.
You can also just show up on June 23rd or 24th! ,It makes an excellent day trip to take in the scenery as well as the beautifully curated Bluerock collection. This is a fabulous gallery - I'd love to see you and talk shop!
110 Centre Ave W
Black Diamond, AB T0L0H0
Those of you who follow my blog know that I am pretty involved at the Leighton Centre, for good reason - they really are an arts organization that is dedicated to supporting local artists and bring in the public to experience all this region has to offer.
Next weekend, I am really excited that I will be participating in their annual Clothesline Festival. Every year, the Leighton Centre holds a spring art extravaganza where they hand pick the artists who are chosen to show and sell their work. I am quite excited to be included again this year, as it is truly one of the best art events in Southern Alberta in the springtime!
My work will be available for purchase and I will be onsite on Saturday demonstrating Plein Air Sketching as well as answering any questions you might have about my upcoming workshops.
Please join me and see what I have been working on recently, lots of fresh work to choose from! Here are some of the paintings I will have up for grabs (I have new linocut prints as well, but I need to upload those pictures still)
Clothesline Festival and Art Sale
Leighton Art Centre, Calgary AB
June 2nd - 3rd
10:00 am - 4:00 pm
Artist Demo on June 2nd 10:00 am - 4;00 pm
Find out more here: www.leightoncentre.org
I'm excited to share this "new" painting with you - although it was completed and delivered last month. I wanted to close my health issue chapter on a positive note. A while ago I applied for and was accepted to be part of a group of artists who were selected to create work to raise money for the Branch Out Neurological Foundation's upcoming fundraiser "Your Brain on Art"
Clearly, having just had brain surgery, this felt like a no brainer (see what I did there?)
We were matched up with a Neuroscientist and advised to contact them about the research project we had selected. I had chosen the research project: Vitamin Niacin on Brain Tumor Growth - Dr. Jeffrey Dunn, University of Calgary (I decided I wanted to fund brain tumour research, even though it wasn't directly related to the type of tumour I had) The idea was to call or email with them to learn more and then create a piece based on the conversation.
Imagine my delight when we figured out a time to meet in person at the actual lab! (I had an appointment with my neurosurgeon on the same campus and it all worked out for a face to face meeting) This became even better when I was told they work at the "Experimental Imaging Lab" in the basement, near the parkade. It doesn't get much better than that!
Once I met up with Jeff, he introduced me to the team and showed me the mouse MRI machine. Having had my fair share of "tube rides" in the past few months, I felt a connection to all the work and research that has to happen for technology like that to be useful in bringing people like me back to health (I also found it it kind of ironic that I blogged about people making better MRI equipment way back in the beginning of my brain tumour saga. Turns out, I got to meet some of those people!
Now, about the painting itself - I will admit, I went off on a different visual style than normal. We started our meeting talking about Greek etymology and somehow that stuck. Here is the write up I submitted:
This piece, Messenger, is a reflection of the dual stories found in the research project Vitamin Niacin on Brain Tumor Growth. The title hints at these two stories: delivery via Macrophage and delivery of information via MRI. The winged sandal represents Hermes, the messenger of the gods. He is known for his swift delivery via his winged sandals. I chose to use green to highlight this as a symbol of this messenger bringing healing, hope and growth. The area surrounding the winged sandal represents normal tissue cells; the area within the foot represents tumour cells. Tiny amounts of image contrast agent are being delivered to the core of a tumour via the macrophage, here shown as blue swatches of colour and orange dots
On a personal note, I haven't been blogging much lately, because I've been all blogged out. We have sunshine and the green is peeking out on my lawn. Health-wise, things are going really, really great. In order to consolidate the past few months and move on mentally, I've made a page with all my meningioma related posts with links in chronological order. If you want to start at the beginning and read my entire Meningioma story, click here.
I had my post surgery follow up yesterday. It went well, my neurosurgeon said I could now be considered a normal person (haha, I'll take that with a grain of salt) and I can resume all my regular activities. One very important thing we did talk about yesterday was weaning off the medication I've been having to take since late December. I am not going to lie, if there has been one really, really difficult part of this journey, its being on this medication, I have had the occasional really dark day and it has only gotten worse the longer I've been taking it. I can only describe those days as "despondent" in nature. Thankfully I was given the green light to try going off these meds - I'm hoping and praying I will remain seizure free.
Now, entering into this whole health saga and blogging about my creative output, I made a decision pretty early on - I would always have some little job to work on or some prep to keep my hands busy even if my head or heart wasn't in it. I've already been dealing with chronic illness (unrelated and very well managed) for over a decade so I know how recovery ebbs and flows. Some days when you feel good, you can make miles of progress. Bad days can sometimes only be measured in inches. However, inches add up. Many bad days can set the stage for what looks like miles of progress on a semi good day. The secret is chipping away at small pieces of the whole.
My Bad Day Project
Anyone who has followed my story will start to see a pattern is emerging. There has to be some sort of good coming out of all this awfulness. Beauty for ashes so to speak. It honestly is the only goal that I have reliably set my eyes on. It has carried me through some really awful moments. Seeing the good in this season has kept me moving forward.
When I met my neurosurgeon, the biggest thing that made me trust her was that she works with kids. Parents have to trust their kids with her during very scary times. I used to work with kids and it is an absolute privilege and pleasure to be trusted with them. The stakes are that much higher when its life or death. I do not envy her job in the sense of the magnitude of having to deal with kids who have brain tumours, brain cancer or brain surgery. Trust me, any of these things are hard enough to deal with as an adult. I get choked up thinking about what that would be like as a child (or the parents of a child).
So, right after I met with her about my surgery, I asked myself if there was anything I could do that might help some kid going through a situation similar to mine? That is when the idea hit to make health card sized documents that could empower them during their journey.
I did not invent the idea of "playing the brain surgery/tumour/cancer card" concept. I'm sure a hundred or more people have made their own variations over the years as well (I actually have never googled it because that doesn't matter) I first heard about the idea of a "cancer card" a few years ago when a dear friend was fighting her own battle. She and her husband referred to this mysterious card in relation to kids missing a deadline at school because it fell on a hospitalization day. Needing an extra dose of understanding when meds caused awful mood swings. Needing Tim Horton's chili because it's the only thing that appealed for breakfast. The Cancer Card - getting one means you are a part of an awful club. There is for sure a Brain Tumour Club and a Brain Surgery Club (and those are different, not all people with tumours get surgery, not all surgery patients have tumours). Wouldn't it be neat to have an actual card one could show? Especially if extra treats are involved.
Now coming up with the idea and then actually thinking through the steps whilst dealing with a brain tumour/brain surgery is REALLY freaking hard. I am not going to lie. That is equivalent to me asking you to design a skyscraper. Where do you even start? Even if you have built a skyscraper, try doing it hopped up on meds and having had someone drill a hole in your head, yeah, now you get it.
So, since January, this became a constant low level item on my to do list. On good days, I'd think about my next step on bad days I'd just do that step. To say that these cards pictured above were made with love is an understatement. They were some of the most difficult and some of my best moments through this journey. The only reason why I made them was to give them away. Hopefully to give someone a bright moment in an otherwise really awful situation. My deadline was my post surgery follow up so I could give them to my neurosurgeon as a gift. A thank you for all the years she spent honing her skill so that my biggest issue from the whole ordeal was dealing with how bad those medications affect me. This was also my way to fight the meds.
Now, I'm not a saint either, I will probably make more of these to sell at some point but those won't have nearly the same amount of my heart poured into them. I do have to make a living somehow, and these are pretty cool. However the batch above is special. I remember how long it took to figure out the exact measurements for wallet sized identification documents. Cutting the paper to size. Sitting in a dark room rounding the corners with a handheld clipper (that was a hard day), wording and rewording in my head. Printing in two rounds so I could do two ink colours. Trying to set type that is upside down and mirror image, trying to get perfect registration. Hard enough to do on a good day, very challenging during recovery.
Anyways, I've given most of the brain related ones away, I made extra of the Cancer Card ones because I have plans for those too. Too many people I love have to deal with that monster. Brain stuff is a little more esoteric I guess. I know they seem simple and to the expert eye, there are imperfections but I can honestly say it was the best I could do on some pretty bad days. Totally worth it too.
To read the whole story of my Meningioma click here.
I have two confessions to make. The first is that there is no secret decoder ring to these latest paintings. I figured I should be upfront about that as I've had a few people inquiring about meaning or looking for greater understanding. This is very appreciated - having people looking closely and seeing details means the world to me. Also, while these paintings are not something that gets "unlocked", they definitely do contain meaning and symbols. Its just a little more complicated than "draw item A, add symbol B, unify with meaningful colour C = painting that says this fixed statement about the world we live in/my life and struggles/current political climate" Now all that being said, I could explain what my current work is about, but I'm sure it would sound like a rambling conversation rather than a succinct mission statement.
When I create work, I start with a kernel of an idea and expand on it. Adding personal symbolism is visual shorthand that keeps me moving toward and thinking through that original idea. I'm usually starting out with something that I am trying to process or figure out for myself. These latest pieces are very much about processing - this affects the outcome significantly during the course of the piece. If you want an equation, it looks more like "draw item A, add symbol B, think about why you put those two things together, ask yourself questions about if it is right to hold the preconceived notions of A and B or A plus B, question if that is too obvious. Bury symbol with meaningful colour C, change mind, bring symbol B back to the surface but change the juxtaposed colour to offer insight as to why my position changed on this issue.... and back and forth until the painting you end with looks to be complete" When I paint, I am pretty much talking to myself the whole time. I'm questioning myself. I'm excited by how serendipitous application of paint looks beautiful and I look at ways to replicate that beauty in other parts of the canvas or how to make that little bit of beauty even more beautiful. It's a process in itself.
The second confession is while this style change has been influenced by my current health situation and I prioritize visual decisions a little differently, my brain tumour did not cause me to paint in this style. This change is very deliberate. After reflecting on some conversations I've had in the past few weeks, I want to be clear that I'm not seeing things funny in my brain or with my eyes. This is not like those 50 paintings Bryan Lewis Saunders did while taking a different drug before doing a self portrait. Truth be had, after going through my situation and really taking a hard long look at mortality, I'm ready to paint what I want to paint. Nothing wrong with earlier work, nothing wrong with representational work. I'm in a place right now where I want to change direction. I guess I'm tired of thinking about what other people will like and trying to paint those things. It's an easy trap for artists to fall into.
One thing that has surprised me since returning to painting and trying this new style is how much planning goes into each piece beforehand. This painting was not "intuitive" or a "just go with the flow" piece at all. I thought it through, made a sketch, thought it through some more, made a new sketch and painted from that. This is very heavily revised and edited for clarity and visual presence. This self portrait is a companion piece to It's All Over But the Shouting (That painting incidentally, is on display at cSpace Calgary for the People's Portrait Prize exhibition - you should check it out! More info can be found here). Not totally decided on my next piece but I'm enjoying the journey so far!
To read the whole story of my Meningioma click here.