I have stalled on writing this year end/beginning blog post. I think because, for a while I was thinking about the past decade and it really tripped me up. Long story short, I have not made the gains in the past 10 years that I would have wanted for myself. In fact, I'm in a totally different head space now than I was 10 years ago. So, in order to move this blog post forward, forget the past decade, that post would have been too whiny.
Back to 2019 - what an unexpectedly good year. Here are some reasons why:
1. St. Louis is an amazing city and the Ladies of Letterpress Conference was filled to the brim with fantastic people, big machines and thousands of things to learn. I want to try my best to return this year. I feel like I only brushed the surface of potential those days can hold. I came home with many treasures and ideas that will keep me out of trouble for the bulk of 2020. I suspect.
2. I returned to my role at Heritage Park as a Trades Interpreter for the Strathmore Standard Newspaper Office. This was meaningful in a multitude of ways - working and learning on the letterpress equipment, broadening my historical knowledge of printing and most importantly the friendships that have come out of my time there. Plus, knowing that pictures of me wearing my Edwardian costume, clicking away on the Linotype are being posted to random tourist social media accounts worldwide is highly entertaining.
3. After taking a break during the year I was recovering, I resumed my membership at Alberta Printmakers and found lots of ways to become involved - serving on the Board, printing manhole covers, demonstrating linocut printmaking and teaching a Letterpress class! They won't be able to get rid of me in 2020, I have my eyes set on using their sweet Vandercook a whole lot more in the new year.
4. I became acquainted with the Making Treaty 7 Society and had a chance to show a piece that explores my First Nations heritage. This, along with group shows at the Calgary Stampede, The Leighton Art Centre and Alberta Printmakers, I have had a wonderful variety of venues to work with and audiences to reach.
5. Speaking of venues, along with those mentioned above, I need a special shout out to Bluerock Gallery in Black Diamond for not only carrying my work, but hosting a pop-up for me at Christmas. I also need to say thanks to Inglewood Art Supplies and Studio for having me in to teach so often and for being so flexible and fun to work with.
6. I am no longer in "recovery mode" - while I am not the same person I was a few years ago, I think I am far stronger and functional than I have been for many years. The small deficits that I have noticed are being worked on how to work around them (and that in itself has been a fun challenge to meet head on). Add to this that my family has had a good year without too many challenges as well - life truly is good.
Of course there are more things to celebrate, but these are the big things that come to mind. So what is ahead for the coming year? More of the same, but with more refinement. I'm looking forward to teaching more, making more and sharing more in the months ahead. I am really wanting to push myself again (something that has been hard for a few years). I've been looking at a lot of art, reading lots and talking through some exciting projects. Hopefully 2020 will an even more exciting year!
Oh and one other thing -
Students: I have a whole slew of classes posted on my main page, ready for you to register for (and more coming soon) Click here for more info.
Organizations and Art Groups: I have a bunch of new workshop and class ideas posted on my booking page (and customization is totally possible) Click here for more info.
I have very much enjoyed becoming a more active member with Alberta Printmakers this year. They are comprised of amazing artists and supporters who are super inclusive and encouraging. One of their yearly fundraising efforts is the Not So Mini Print Exchange and Exhibition. It is an international call and artists submit an edition of 10 prints. Of that edition, 8 prints get given to other artists and 2 go up for auction with the proceeds going to fund further A/P projects.
My piece, The Fox and the Crow, was a return visit to an old theme that has been popping up in my work for about a decade. It's based off of a fable by Aesop - in it a crow has a tasty morsel of cheese in her beak. A sly fox decides to convince the crow that her voice is beautiful and that he wants her to sing. As she starts to caw and croak, the cheese drops to the ground and the fox runs away with the cheese. This has always been interpreted by me as a stark warning about flattery and other wasted words.
I have a hard time receiving compliments, I tend to be very awkward and uncomfortable when this happens. This is a long standing thing - hence the reoccurring fox and crow theme that I relate to on a deeper level. This strangeness about compliments was recently pointed out to me and I started to process a little bit about why it is hard to hear those things (haven't totally figured that out). I do like receiving warm feedback (especially from those that I really respect their opinions) and I decided it was time to put the Fox and Crow theme to rest. It was the subject of a print I did a long time ago that was rushed and I was dissatisfied with the end result.
This version I am much happier with. I printed it using 3 different blocks (the large red rectangle with scalloped pattern, the blue circle/floral blocks (used twice) and the final fox and crow block. I played around on my Chandler & Price treadle letterpress with very diluted pigment and tried my best to get nice registration and clean edges. It turned out well. I agonized over the composition for quite some time because I couldn't picture the placement very easily in my head - but at the end, I think it reads well. I feel like I am making slow art these days. Hopefully the flavours are that much more developed because of it. I also feel like I'm starting to make peace with some of my hesitations surrounding kind words about my work.
Come and check it out and all the other amazing pieces at:
Not So Mini Exhibition
December 6th - 21st, 2019
Find out more here.
So I have a confession of sorts. I've recently come to the slow realization that despite having almost two years to recover and working very diligently on my artwork, I still have a very difficult time visualizing what it is I am wanting to make.
What do I mean by that? Well, if you asked me to close my eyes and picture a chair, I could do that pretty easily. If you ask me to make you a picture featuring a chair I literally draw a blank. Nothing. Now, resist temptation to chime in with "me too! I never know what to draw or where to start!" That's not really what I'm talking about... I have this hard to describe loss of not really being able to do what I once was very good at which is this sequence of "here is the request" then "explosion of images in my head" then "rework images in my head" then do a sketch. Now it's more like "here is the request" then... crickets.
So, why I am sharing this? Honestly, the idea of this is super interesting to me - how and why do I make art then? How long did I go on making things not realizing that the ability to visualize never really returned?
Truth be had, I really avoided "making art" as much as possible. Or I stuck to tried and true things like representational paintings. I got super good at carving patterns on linoleum because I couldn't decide on anything to depict. So I'd carve lines. Or circles. The blocks started piling up.
It wasn't until I tried to make something specific that I completely stalled out. Since I had imposed a deadline for myself to abide by, I had to figure out how to make something from nothing. I learned a few things about making flights of fancy materialize along the way. .
Words help There is something about how my brain is re-wired that words still play a very, very strong role in how things do or do not get done. It was over coffee with a friend talking about my side project where it really started to dawn on me that talking ideas = half formed visuals in my head. Writing half formed visuals down and then pinning them to a style, time period or medium = slightly more formed ideas. Repeat until the artwork emerges.
Words somehow resemble having a tiny flashlight in the woods at night. They illuminate the steps ahead but I cannot see the destination (or the wolves lurking in the inky darkness)
This is not all bad. Since I've realized this deficit still very much exists for me (and might be part of my new normal) I have noticed that my artwork is more considered. Gone are the days of dashing off spur of the moment paintings. This has been replaced with informally collaborating through offhand conversations. Talking out an idea seems to lead to imagery. Slowing down like this allows me to really consider things like composition, colour choices, subject, style - the list goes on and on. Just because something used to be easy, doesn't mean that it was better.
Anyways, all this to say that since that discovery, I've been tinkering with all sorts of ideas and making new things. Plus, I've learned that if the visualization isn't happening I have to keep busy anyways. Sometimes it is prep work, sometimes it is digging out an old half finished project, sometimes it is just reading or drawing (which still remains a spontaneous arena for me). Productive procrastination is a thing for me these days.
I've also learned that having deadlines really help (real or imagined) - I'm quite excited that a lot of the letterpress notebooks and postcards that I've sprinkled throughout my post are destined for a Pop-Up Market at Bluerock Gallery on November 30th! Since I was bringing my little press with me, I wanted to have a lot of freshly printed items that showcased letterpress and linocut!
I am really looking forward to the events that are coming up in the next few weeks. All my favourite things are here: painting, printmaking and letterpress!
Christmas in the Country 2019
Leighton Art Centre, Calgary AB
November 2, 2019 - November 10, 2019
I'm happy to have been selected to participate in the annual Christmas in the Country Art sale at the fabulous Leighton Art Centre. Over 2000 pieces of fine craft and unframed artworks by local artists will fill the museum and galleries of the historic Leighton home this November,
Free parking, free admission & complimentary festive treats throughout both weekends. Spectacular Rocky Mountain views included! For more information visit here.
Making Your Mark - Beginner and Intermediate Acrylic Painting
Inglewood Art Supplies and Studio
November 5th - December 3rd 2019
Tuesdays 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm
Learn the basics of painting and start working on your masterpiece! Students will learn how choose their subject, prepare their canvas, apply paint with a variety of techniques, as well as troubleshoot problem areas. Students will take home a completed painting and the knowledge to develop their skills further on their own.
Intermediate Students will be coached through individual projects and provided with more targeted feedback based on their goals for skill development.
$30 Drop-In option available, For more information visit here.
Print & Be Merry:
Holiday Print Workshop
Wednesdays, November 20th and 27th 2019
6:30 pm - 8:30 pm (both evenings)
Carve your own holiday linocut image and print it on a tabletop Kelsey letterpress!
Over two sessions, students will learn the basics of linocut carving and printmaking, and use a tabletop letterpress to create one of a kind Christmas cards, tags and wrapping paper. Participants will leave with a variety of hand printed projects, their own carved blocks as well as the skill to practice at home using basic art materials.
All materials provided, no experience necessary! For more information visit here.
Bluerock Gallery Pop Up Market
Black Diamond, AB
November 30th, 2019
10:00 am - 6:00 pm
It will be so great to be back at Bluerock Gallery for a pop up market with my latest Letterpress ephemera on display as well as the soothing rattle and clink of my trusty travel companion - my Kelsey tabletop letterpress. I cannot express how much I love being a part of this gallery family - they have been so supportive of my journey into printing! It will be a merry day for sure! Come by to soak up all the art and to say hello!
For more information visit here.
I feel like I have run out of words lately. After a recent whirlwind trip to St. Louis for the Ladies of Letterpress Conference it has been a little harder for me to gather all the things that I am thinking about and writing them into a concise blog post. Perhaps I'll soon be able to pull the string and take the brown paper off all the things I saw and learned while I was there. Thankfully I have had reasons to unpack aspects of this trip already as much of it pertains to my letterpress endeavors.
Recently I had the delight of buying next year's day timer, I have started filling in small dates here and there, the school calendar is added and all this has reminded me about the power of anticipation. I remember a Jewish friend of mine sharing with me years ago the concept of how Sabbath day of rest fits into their calendar. It is the high point in one's week - you spend three days preparing in anticipation of all the things needed for that day to be a complete rest and refilling. After it is over, you spend three days reflecting on the experience you had. Then the cycle repeats.
My day timer is like that, in its more haphazard fashion. I have a fairly routine orbit of teaching, appointments and meetings rotating throughout my weeks. Anything slightly different that engages my senses tends to be savoured long before it arrives. Planning a special trip, going for a walk or a coffee with a friend, setting a time for a gallery hop sees a lot of anticipation beforehand. Afterwards the glow of those moments seems to light up something creatively within me and I have a bout of inspired studio time. By the time it starts to wane, I look towards the next bright item in my day timer (I don't make a lot of social appointments now that I think about it).
As you can imagine, this conference was HIGHLY anticipated for quite some time.
From the moment I stepped off the plane to the moment I boarded to go home, I was busy and engaged. At times, my brain felt overloaded. A friend I made at the conference shared that she booked 3 or 4 days off after she got home. Her method allowed her to make space for all the things she learned and gave her a chance to play with some of the concepts she was getting a handle on. I managed to take one full day off just to blissfully experiment in the studio, and I will learn for next time to book off more.
I looked forward to this Ladies of Letterpress experience for a long time and now it is over, I need to look back perhaps even longer and see what I gleaned from it. Hopefully some more jewels will be placed in my calendar for when this glow starts to wane.
Recently, I've taken up writing in my journal regularly again. After all my health issues last year, it dropped off my radar. In order to tame my scrawling cursive, I've been using a fountain pen which is far easier on my hands and seems to slow me down in a good way. As my cursive is improving I am noticing that the pleasure centres of my brain light up when I manage to write a long word with no breaks and with correct letter formation. It's the little things, folks.
I am currently working on quite a few pieces, most of which have shows coming up where they will debut. This weekend I will be at Artsplace in Canmore for Pottery Palooza - my first time showing there! I have fresh work coming to Leighton Art Centre for the Clothesline Festival as well the fabulous Bluerock Gallery. I also have pieces that will be shown on the Mini Masterpiece wall at the Calgary Stampede. This is the first time I've participated in a Stampede art event, so I am very excited.
This is also a very busy time for instructing - once the snow melts, the roads are far more reliable and classes fill up. Right now, I've been doing a Tuesday night Acrylic Class for beginner and intermediate students at Inglewood Art Supplies and I have quite a few workshops approaching there and at Leighton Art Centre. I keep getting questions about outdoor sketching classes and lino carving - there are a bunch posted here.
As if this wasn't enough busyness... I decided it was time to move from "recovery and rebuilding" mode and back into "learning and exploring" mode (a place that I am far happier to dwell in). I've been feeling so restless the past few months, needing to push my own boundaries and get out of my house. After skipping the 2018 season, I'm returning to Heritage Park part time as a Trades Interpreter at the Strathmore Standard. This is a wealth of letterpress knowledge that I'm looking forward to tapping into. Already this has opened some unexpected and interesting doors for me that I'll be sharing more about in the coming weeks.
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
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.
The short answer is yes, you can print using linoleum flooring. While they are very similar, I found there were some differences to this material from artist grade linoleum. Recently, my sister (who works for a flooring company), gave me some samples of discontinued linoleum flooring to try. On initial inspection, they looked almost identical to battleship grey artist grade lino.
To touch, I found that the flooring was more pliable and had a very, very slight texture to the cutting surface. I did not sand this sample down, because I wanted a baseline test to see what out-of-the-box lino would be like to work with. In future tests though, I will take a very fine grit sandpaper to the surface to reduce this. It almost feels like a surface coating.
Cutting the flooring was a pleasure. I honestly breezed through the entire sample. It was somewhere between a soft block and standard artist grade. It held the tool well without me feeling like I had to force anything. The line quality was decent. One thing I noticed though was hit the bottom layer very easily (making for a not as pretty block) Since it is a thinner material, there is a finer layer of the linoleum surface on the hessian.
Once I got to inking the piece, I noticed the surface texture a lot more. It is very smooth but minutely pebble like to touch. When I rolled the brayer of oil based ink on it, I noticed it didn't drink it up quite the same way as the first layer of ink on artist grade linoleum.
I let it sit for a moment to soak in, applied another coat of ink and then proceeded to print. After a few proof prints, it printed almost identically for for the first 10 prints or so. I achieved nice inky, deep blacks and crisp lines with the usual amount of effort. As an aside, I pull prints with the help of an antique book press, so I don't know if hand burnishing would get the same results.
I found after about 10 prints, I started fighting an odd resistance to the ink. I noticed my edges were fuzzing out a little here and there and had a closer look at the block. I appeared to be that the all the cut lines were pushing back the ink. I blotted the block when I noticed this happening and it seem to alleviate the issue for a few prints but it always came back. I'm pretty sure sanding the coating off the top layer is the way to fix this issue.
All in all, I will keep experimenting on this, for sure. I really like how it carved and I like the fact that if I wanted a bigger piece to work on, this would be an economical way to get materials. I'm not worried about the "artist grade" part of this on a conservation level because the time span that a block is in use is so short and the contact with things that need to be artist grade (ink and paper) is very brief, it wouldn't have much of an effect. Remember, flooring is where linocut printmaking all began in the Die Brucke movement... it was a cheap, easily sourced alternative to woodcut blocks.
Stay tuned for the reveal of the print I made with this block! I'm not quite done with it yet.