An Emergence of Sorts
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about my family heritage and reflecting on what that means with regards to our genetic make-up all the way to what it means to be a part of community. Some of you may have noticed a shift in my recent work. On the surface, these pieces began their journey as paper being fed through a printing press. As they rotated through, they made contact with various arrangements of linocut blocks. Each colour printed is a separate pass through the press.
A lot of joy went into mixing transparent inks with just a hint of pigment, so as to allow the layers to influence and change each other – another way to express this jumble of genetics we possess from the start that cause us to prefer or not prefer elements of the world around us. Different branches of the family tree juxtaposed in unique ways.
Once the printing was complete and the paper was dry, the pieces were then mounted on cradled panels to give them structure for the subsequent layers of acrylic texture and paint that were then applied. These layers speak to life situations and experience that grow and shape us, taking those original genetics and deeply influencing how one appears and reacts, enhancing some features while obscuring others.
So far, I’ve only talked about family in general terms, these pieces could speak to any family situation. Ones filled with joy and support, others with distance and regret – they cover the spectrum of human connectivity. This series is also deeply personal as well, the linoleum blocks themselves tell their own story, in some ways too close and revealing yet equally distant and covered in dense fog.
My story is not so different for many Canadians – it’s a bit like living in a cultural mezzanine level. Not quite Anglo-Saxon white, not quite Indigenous either. There is damage to our family tree that has never really been fully examined or repaired. Growing up, we have always been proud of our First Nations ancestry but have been isolated from it so long that there are very few fragments to connect to. Some of this is physical distance, some of this is from the cultural climate. While there is a desire to connect in this way, there is the reality that this could be potentially awkward for all involved.
My identity is this strange mixture of European and Ojibwe influences, I wanted to reflect that within this work. I started reading and learning what I could about Anishinaabe art around the time of contact with Europeans. Not all things from this period are dark – trade between these worlds gave my ancestors beautiful glass beads and fresh inspiration from imported linens. Many items produced in this time were for trade and reflect an understanding of the tastes of the time across the ocean. This amalgamation was where I wanted to start
My main inspiration for these patterns came from Anishinaabe made bandolier bags from the late 19th century. A bandolier bag is mostly a thick strap that meets at the base where a small pouch might be fashioned, and they are worn across the body from one shoulder to the opposite hip. They are heavily beaded and might be adorned with tassels. They were originally modelled after European ammunition bags and often used for ceremonial purposes if not sold or traded.
As an aside, I really dislike a lot of what can be described as cultural appropriation – it tends to ignore the sacredness of ceremonial objects, takes income from marginalized groups, removes their voices and stories and often becomes a garish mimicry of cultural stereotypes. I’ve reflected long and hard on whether or not it is possible to appropriate from one’s own culture if you aren’t raised within it. For artists, this is worth much discussion over, I’ve found that there are no easy answers. I chose to make these for my own growth and to express my love for my lineage and I would not classify them as “Indigenous Art” in a any sense. Part of what drew me to these Ojibwe textile art pieces from contact times were that they were not purely Indigenous – there is a hefty amount of European influence visible.
I learn best through examination, so I set about poring over photos of these textiles. I decided to isolate each type of pattern that I particularly enjoyed and tried to reproduce it. Now, I wanted to fight the obvious answer here and did not want to make what looked like beadwork. I decided to distill these patterns to their simplest geometric shapes and carve them on linoleum. I didn’t do a faithful replica either, but in the spirit of my forebearers I improvised a little to make the designs my own. As a nod to the mass hand production of these works destined for trade, I printed them on a vintage printing press so as to amplify that idea of hand produced but not as a family or ceremonial treasure.
I’ve only just gotten started with these bandolier bag inspired blocks. I’ve created a whole visual vocabulary with them and have started to print other series, addressing different aspects of what it means to grapple with my identity.
These pieces and more can currently be found at Bluerock Gallery, online and in person.
A Typical COVID-19 Update
The past few days have been difficult ones for anyone who makes their livelihood in the arts sector (or gig-economy in general). Each morning our social media and inboxes have been flooded with a kaleidoscope of changing plans to sanitize openings and classrooms to putting workshops off a week or two to finally, with our province declaring a state of emergency, indefinitely postponing all workshops, classes, openings, talks and even closing museums and galleries.
Disappointing, but absolutely the right thing to do - as an instructor, my first priority is the well being of the people in my classes. Your health is important, my health is important as is the health of our loved ones. Painting, letterpress and linocut can wait a few more weeks.
Some thoughts for all of you who have received those disappointing emails over the past few days. If your financial situation has become more precarious since all these closures and announcements have come - please take refunds if they are offered and then sign up for things when your situation has improved. If you are doing okay, please keep yourself registered so that class can resume. If you are doing okay but the new date doesn't work, consider transferring your registration to someone who could use a pick me up or donate the registration fee to the organization who is hosting the workshop.
We artists and instructors are going to be hit by this in the coming months, so if you are in a place to buy art or theatre tickets or sign up for interesting classes just know that you will be helping a lot of people who might need it. Contract workers and freelancers tend to fall through typical safety nets during times like this, so every bit of art related support helps us all in the end.
For those of you who are fellow artists, instructors or are also put in a place of financial instability from this pandemic, let's have each other's backs through all this. Make a commitment to liking and sharing each other's posts and commenting support through our social media channels.
I'll be totally honest about the last part I typed - this morning I was feeling pretty down about all these postponements and worried about people and organizations that I truly love. At some point, I just decided it was time to spread some sort of positive feeling on all the posts I came across. Let's all just decide to do that in the coming days. I know I felt better immediately and a little more in control of how I felt about all this.
Stay safe and healthy, wash your hands, make art, sleep more, get some sunshine and don't hoard toilet paper. We are all in this together and I promise that soon enough things will start creaking back into a normal routine. When it does, I'll be waiting and ready to teach that darn workshop that just got postponed!
My Year in Review and a Peek Ahead
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.
Making Merry in the Next Few Weeks
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.
Springtime Studio Update
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.
It has been really busy in the studio these past few weeks! Here is a snapshot of all sorts of fun things coming up from me:
Final Weekend for Leighton Art Centre's Christmas in the Country: If you fancy the above paintings, they are available till Sunday afternoon at the Leighton Centre. There other fresh pieces of mine available as well! I hope you check it out, it is an amazing event!
Free parking, free admission & complimentary festive treats throughout both weekends. Spectacular Rocky Mountain views included! Click here for more information.
Upcoming Acrylic Painting 5 Week Class and 1 Day Lino Workshop at Inglewood Art Supplies: I am so excited to be back next week at the great new studio space adjoining Inglewood's store. There is still room in both the painting class as well as the Linocut workshop.
November 13th - December 11th, 2018
Tuesday Evenings, 6:30 - 8:00 pm
In this adult beginner course you will 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.
5 classes | 1.5 hour class
$175.00 + GST (supplies not included - click here for list)
Save 10% by registering before November 7th
Register here or contact Inglewood Art Supplies at firstname.lastname@example.org or 403-265-8961
November 17th, 2018
Saturday 10:00 am - 4:00 pm
Learn the basics of linocut printmaking. The instructor will teach students about composition, safe cutting techniques and how to pull prints. 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.
$100.00 +GST Supplies not included (supply list here)
$135.00 +GST Supplies provided
Save 10% by registering before November 12th, 2018
Register here or contact Inglewood Art Supplies at email@example.com or 403-265-8961
Northern Reflections Painted Window Exhibition:
November 13th - December 31st
Downtown Calgary (see link)
Michelle Wiebe/Michael Kohlweg Window:
East Village Experience Centre
I'm excited to be participating again in this event. This year's theme is "Electric Winter" and my animation partner and I have a treat in store for everyone who loves Santa!
Download the Augle App and bring the kids down to the East Village Experience Centre to see the magic that happens when you use Augmented Reality (AR) to view original art. There is free onsite parking during open hours and helpful East Village Ambassadors to answer any questions!
Don't forget to vote for your favorite window! They are located around East Village and Stephen Ave. Click here for more info.
I always try to keep my main page current with upcoming events and shows - check there for even more things coming in the next few months! I hope to see you at some of these events!
Upcoming Fall Events
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.
New Painting: Messenger
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.
New Painting - Year of Three Winters
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.
New Painting - Dual Orbits
I am starting to be ready to wrap up my recovery specific posts from my meningioma surgery. Not that I am 100% recovered, more that each gain comes in smaller and smaller doses. Not so many interesting breakthroughs. Lots of slogging in between each win, Truth be had, I am ready to close this strange chapter in my life because I am tired of talking about it. Yesterday marked 6 weeks post surgery, it feels like it is time.
Today, when I went into the studio I decided to paint something in my pre-seizure style just to ensure that those faculties are in working order. It was a fun exercise this morning and I might continue with these tiny 6" x 6" studies once in a while to keep my eyes sharp. I have pinpointed one area where my brain still goes haywire - colour matching. For some reason, when I try to get the right value mixed up, my brain goes into overdrive. When I painted "It's All Over But the Shouting" it was less noticeable because it wasn't so critical I get the colour correct, so I wasn't doing it as much. Today it did matter and I can feel it now in my fuzzy thinking.
My eyes are still a little different as well. Cannot totally pinpoint what it is, but it seems like trying to LOOK at things after painting a while is too hard for my brain so everything feels a little hazier than it did before I started. Almost like doing the job of focusing and paying attention to detail takes too much work. Still, that is improving each day.
This little painting is of some new to me ceramic orbs that I found at a thrift store. It joins another one that was given to me as a gift. They are sitting out at the moment by my reading chair and I study how the light hits them when I'm taking a break from reading. Every few days I move them around to see what that does to the scenario. This is the life of a woman who doesn't get out much I think. At least I am painting. At last it is warming up.
To read the whole story of my Meningioma click here.