Thursday, December 29, 2011
Firstly: the theme is Steampunk. Imagine the "modern" world as if science had stopped in the Victorian age. What sort of contraptions would we be getting about the planet on? How would we dress? What would our cities look like? While I'm not completely obsessed with steampunk, let's say I'm ... intrigued. There *are* people out there who are completely obsessed (google "steampunk", select images, and prepare to have your mind blown). But for now, this level of obsession will do for me.
Secondly: we're doing the *whole* deck ~ not just the Major Arcana. For folks unfamiliar with Tarot, the Major Arcana are like the face cards in a regular deck. Kings, Queens, that sort of thing. For this project we're also doing the Minor Arcana, or the numbered cards as well. Yay! And yikes! That's a LOT of cards! Good thing we've got a big group on this one.
The usual "suits" in a Tarot deck are Cups, Wands, Swords and Pentacles (or Coins). Since this deck is steampunk, Cups have stayed Cups, although my vote was for beakers. Wands have become Walking Sticks. Swords have become Daggers. Personally I thought Umbrellas would be cooler, but people didn't think they were menacing enough. Obviously they don't live in Vancouver. Pentacles/Coins have become Gears. Which is pretty darn cool. I put my name in for the Page of Gears.
Eons ago when I bought my first Tarot deck (at 18?), a friend who read Tarot cards suggested that I choose a "signifier" card for myself ~ something that would represent me in the world. She suggested that since I was too young to be represented by one of the queens (a card better suited to more mature women), that I choose one of the Page cards. I read all the definitions in the teeny tiny book that came with my cards and I chose the Page of Pentacles. Okay ... so it had *pen* right in the name, so that was a plus, but (according to the teeny tiny book) it also represents a young person on a quest to gain knowledge or learn a skill, and I had (at 18) just started an apprenticeship in printing, so it seemed to fit me nicely. Pentacles are also an earth suit, and my Zodiac sign is also an earth sign. Let's just say that if you're going to throw your hat into the divination ring, you might as well go with the flow. I should (of course) stick a whoppingly huge disclaimer on this whole thing by saying that I don't actually "believe" this stuff ... I'm far too practical for that. But my friends who do would pat my hand and say: Of course you're skeptical, dear, you're a Virgo. And there's no comeback for that, is there?
Above is one of the sketches I made for the final drawing. I should explain that his/her weirdly placed hand will be holding a giant gear/cog. The final Page of Gears is 97% complete ... I'm just struggling with the face. I'm working in about seven layers of gesso, paint and Caran d'Ache crayons on the figure, which is a good thing and a bad thing. Bad because so much texture is making it tricky to get the features right. Good because if I mess it up, I just scrape off the layers and start again. Which I've done four times already. I think I'm just going to set this card aside and move on to ...
My second card! Yes, with 78 cards to produce, it was inevitable seconds would be available. Since the organizer very kindly gave me the Page of Gears as I requested, I told her I'd take any random card she needed to complete the deck, and she gave me the Seven of Daggers. Oooooh ... sounds dangerous! After spending a few hours yesterday trolling the net for a) card interpretations and b) examples of other Sevens of Swords, I'm well on my way with ideas for this one. I'm having so much fun with this that I can't wait to see the completed deck.
Saturday, December 24, 2011
I took this photo at the "Frostbite Meet" at the Little Railway.
You think with all those little trains around, that
I'd *actually* have a train in the photo ... but no, tracks it is!
And here's a little poem I wrote to go with it:
Night's frost has etched the world in white,
The morning train in the station stands,
Chuffing out great gusts of steam
As if to warm Old Winter's hands.
Hoping you're all warm and dry ...
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Meanwhile ... back at my art retreat and the "short story" that wouldn't go away ...
So ... there I was ... completely unable to concentrate on the project I'd brought to work on, and significantly distracted by the short story that had just fallen out of my head when I woke that morning. But having written it, there was really nowhere to take it, except perhaps to an editor (if I only I knew one!). Creatively speaking, I needed a fresh direction to travel in ...
In the last few years, several of us have been fortunate enough to have taken classes with Roxanne Padgett, and pretty much we all agree that she's one of the most inspiring and generous teachers we've had. Her recent Journalfest class on faces inspired some of us to make multi-plate prints at the retreat.
I'm just gonna say outright that I was a little intimidated to try this, but since everyone else was having a go at it, I thought I'd join in. I've noticed there's a kind of energy about doing things in groups that I can't replicate at home. Not to mention that if I was at home I would have found a zillion other things I "ought" to have been doing and therefore print-making just wouldn't have happened. But since the materials are so darn cheap (Sticky foam sheet + thrift store board book: $2. Acrylic paints: $5. Making your own amazing multi-colour prints? Priceless) this was obviously both the time and the place to do it.
I started with a simple sketch of a woman's head, then I redrew it using wide sharpie on the sticky foam. The process of visualizing and cutting the separate layers of colour in the foam was a bit of a mind twister. It looks easy (once it's done), but actually cutting the layers? You really have to concentrate. And positioning them on the board book so they would be in register? Sheesh! It occurred to me while trying to position everything that working on plexiglass sheets would make lining things up easier, but hey - who randomly throws some plexiglass into their art bag "just in case they need it"? Okay, some people might actually do that, but I hadn't, so I worked with what I had. And it all worked out okay in the end ~ I actually think the non-perfect register of these prints is what makes them look more interesting.
I wanted to record the separate stages of the process, so I decided to stamp each "plate" into my journal, and hey - it just so happened that I had 7 blank pages ready and waiting (opposite that darn short story!). So I carefully stamped and labeled each of the 3 separate plates in my journal, and filled up the following 4 pages with various combinations ... plates 1 & 2 together, plates 2 & 3 together, all plates together, etc, etc . Done!
But not done. It kind of bugged me that the pages were still so empty ... just a single, boring print on each page. Hmphf. Fortunately, what I *had* thrown into my art bag was some really really fun washi tape. I, like many of my arty friends, have recently fallen under the spell of washi tape. I've even been making my own custom washi tape. Maybe I'll tell you about it some time ...
So I decided to put a washi tape border around each of the prints, and added a bit of colour here and there using caran d'ache crayons. And since that still left an empty box under each print, I also hand wrote or stamped a few lines from the bit of the story on the facing page. Now I was done. Every single page was as thoroughly visually covered as the scribbly written page that faced it. And yet again I'd had the experience of the retreat giving me an extraordinary gift - a complete package - a story, plus the perfect visual component to go with it. Will wonders never cease? I hope not.
Friday, November 18, 2011
"Snow wasn't forecast on the radio," I said. "Time for a new radio," said Mr B. in his usual deadpan English way.
In the 15 minutes it took us to find a restaurant, it went from light drizzly rain to huge splatting flakes the size of quarters. In the half hour it took to have dinner (the restaurant was nearly empty), it seemed to have given up and gone back to being cold and dark, but not wet.
After dinner, Mr. B dropped me at the Richmond Art Gallery, where I met up with my friend Catherine for the opening of their mail art exhibit (we both had work in the show). Well worth a look, by the way, if you're in the neighbourhood ~ it'll be on display till January 15th.
Anyway ... we thought we'd better get home sooner rather than later as more people came into the gallery saying (cheerfully!) that it was "snowing out there". Good thing we did ~ it had returned to the huge splatting flakes again ~ and they were starting to pile up. The closer we got to home, the more snow there was, until the sidewalks were white, and the wipers were actually pushing slush out of their way. By the time Catherine dropped me at home, my lawn and sidewalk were not only completely white, but also distressingly crunchy. Ick.
And then, this morning, as Mr. B dropped me off at work, we saw this lovely little snowman hailing a bus outside my building, and I couldn't resist taking a picture. I know it's just a snowman, but I absolutely identified with that hopefully raised twiggy arm ... get me out of here, it seemed to say. Oh yeah, I'm with you, little guy ... I'm not ready for winter, either.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
All my life, I've had strange dreams, and sleeping in strange places gives me even stranger dreams. Stranger, more vivid, live-it-like-you-were-there kind of vividness. This happens every time I go to the Red Farmhouse. I wake up one morning with *something* unusual spilling out of my head and onto my journal pages (usually verbal), and somehow over the course of the next few days I'm able to turn it into something visual that I wouldn't have created any other time. This weekend's experience was no exception ... Saturday morning, I woke from a dream about a wonderful creative relationship that comes up against an all too familiar obstacle.
But I'd (foolishly!) left my journal downstairs Friday night, so the trick was to stay sleepy enough to keep all the details in my head, but awake enough to maneuver the stairs down and then back up to my room where I could write everything down. Seven pages and an hour or so later, it was all spilled messily out onto the page. Satisfied, I went downstairs to see what was sort of creative stuff was cooking at the big art table, but for some reason the story just wouldn't leave me. I kept falling back into the environment, the characters, the events. The project I'd intended to work on seemed flat and distant compared to the brightness of the dream. But, at the same time, I didn't know what to do next. It was obviously just a short story. Funny ... I say that like I write short stories all the time ... trust me, I don't. Well, not short stories that *other* people would recognize as short stories. This one I could almost imagine reading in a real book.
By lunchtime I still couldn't shake the story. As we sat in the kitchen after lunch, I asked if anyone would mind if I read my story, and they were all up for it. I was pretty nervous, I'm not the kind of person who enjoys reading my work aloud. And what's really weird is that I realized I wanted to read it to them almost because I wanted witnesses to the fact that this extraordinary thing had fallen out of my head only hours before. I was afraid if I took it away "under wraps" that something bad would happen to it in the editing stage and I might never share it with anyone. Ever. And that seemed like a shame, not because it's such a marvelous story (hard to tell what it might be once properly edited), but because it's existence seemed as much about our being all together in that space as it was about the original dream. Like it kind of belonged to all of us, and I was just the channel it came in through.
The story continued to stay with me all that day, and the next, and in fact, here is it Tuesday and it's still with me. I think this is because it badly needs editing, and I'm afraid to get too far away from it before I do that. Or maybe I'm afraid to be too close. Or something. I've put one of the unedited sections of the story here for you so you'll see something of it's current state. I know soon I'll be brave enough to edit it. I know it'll find the right form eventually. In my next post, I'll show you what happened next, and for that too I credit my friends at the Red Farmhouse.
Saturday, October 29, 2011
Hallowe'en is nearly upon us. For me it's perfectly fitting that the holiday season begins with a fright-based event, because as near as I can tell, from now till New Year's Day western civilization takes collective leave of its senses and I get more and more bewildered/annoyed by it every year.
Lest you think I'm just some ordinary run-of-the-mill Grinch, I should explain that I grew up without holidays (my parents' religion forbade them). And I'm an oldest child. And we were poor. So there I am in the weird three-way overlap of this particular Venn diagram where the collective effect has been to put me out-of-step with the forces behind every holiday from here till Christmas.
I *try* to like them. I mean, who can't get on board with a little cutting loose (Hallowe'en), a little giving and receiving (Christmas) and whatever it is we're supposed to feel on Remembrance Day (every person I ask has a different answer to this one). I suppose I'll continue to struggle with how to fit into these events as life goes on, but over the years I've pretty much come to terms with being baseline out-of-sorts till January 1st.
Each holiday affects me slightly differently, depending on what's expected of the participants.
Hallowe'en, for example, encourages people to misbehave, to let their inner goblins out, and (depending on your age), also to a) take candy from strangers, b) scare the crap out of your friends, c) get drunk while you think you're *actually* superman (or the devil, or giant dice, or whatever you've decided to be for the night). The thing is, I'm all for creativity and intellectually I understand the need for ritual, rule-breaking and not being yourself from time to time. But the oldest child in me just wants to look deeply into everyone's eyes as they go out the door, hold them firmly by the shoulders and say something like: "You be careful out there." In my head I'm also adding: " ... and I'll just stay home with the lights off till the night is over."
What I actually *do* at Hallowe'en is volunteer at the little railway, where for 3 hours we give miniature train rides to over 1000 (mostly little) people in (hopefully) warm, waterproof costumes. My job consists of hanging out in the clubhouse with all the other *ladies* handing out free cookies and desperately needed hot chocolate as the trains unload their very cold and/or waterlogged passengers. So it's not like I'm hiding at home - I am out there! Confronting my fears! But also, like the good sensible oldest child I am, I am staying warm and dry and looking deeply into their eyes while I hand them their hot chocolate and thinking: See? That wasn't so bad, was it?.
So, in the spirit of Hallowe'en and dyfunctional childhoods everywhere, the lovely cartoon above is by Lynda Barry AKA the Near-Sighted Monkey, who has taught me in the most wonderful way, that it's possible to have your heart broken and healed at the same time.
Monday, October 10, 2011
I was thinking about this today because I was suffering from some kind of ennui (which is not my usual state ~ must be the rain) and I chose to fight back using all the modern technology I have at my disposal. Granted, most of this "modern technology" was actually the net ... but never look a gift horse in the mouth (and I'm pretty sure people don't do that anymore).
Anywho ... here's what happened ... I began with the latest edition of Radiolab ... and if you haven't made Radiolab one of your usual webstops, I highly recommend it. Their latest offering "Loops" lived up to my expectations, and while I listened I sat by the computer sticking photographs together for an art deadline this weekend. Dum de dum ... listen, listen, stick, stick ... see ... feeling better already ... and then I suddenly stopped, and listened more closely ... the young woman being interviewed was relating the story of when her mother had Transient Global Amnesia (a usually brief state of mind when you completely forget your immediate past and remain unable to form any new memories for the duration of the attack). I'd actually read (and clipped out) a fascinating case of TGA while we were in England this year, so I was aware of the condition, but what stopped me in my tracks was when the young woman said, "... on the youtube video we made of it, you can see ...". Wait, what!? OK, so pause Radiolab and go search youtube, where yes ... there they are, in the hospital room, telling her mother over and over, Yes, it's Tuesday, yes, it's past your birthday, yes, you were there, yes, this is creepy, and then repeating the whole conversation again every 90 seconds or so. When I'm done watching this, I go back to Radiolab and re-hear the audio of the youtube video again, only this time with the woman's face clearly in my head (which I wouldn't have had if I hadn't seen the video) ... talk about looping.
And then later ... listening to The Enright Files on CBC, an interview with Nick Mount, an English professor at the University of Toronto on the state of academic integrity (i.e. cheating) in universities. I was really enjoying their conversation, and thought some of Nick's answers were among the clearest, most sensible statements about higher education that I'd heard in awhile (not that I spend a lot of my time on such subjects, but still ...). Anyway, at some point in the conversation, Michael casually asks about the role of "entertainment" in teaching, particularly in delivering English lectures to large classes (if I heard right, the class size was somewhere around 500. Really? OMG). Nick says that a certain amount of theatre is involved ... that he remembers his own attention span at that age as being something like 15 minutes, and he tries to keep them engaged in his topic by occasionally introducing something that reconnects with their brains. Michael flatteringly follows with something like ... "I remember seeing a youtube video of a lecture you gave on comics as being quite entertaining." Again, I'm diving for the search button and trying to guess what youtube search terms to use and yep, there it is ... a 55 minute lecture on comics. Well, hot dawg.
So after Michael and Nick finish up, I scoot on over to youtube for another hour of more listening, as well as looking, for Nick Mount's youtube lecture on graphic novels (many of them Canadian!) is filled with examples from the books in question. Of course, as I listened I kept on sticking those photos together ... classic multitasking in the modern age.
This all kind of reminds me of the first time I realized that William Gibson's future had indeed arrived where I was ... a few years ago I'd been rereading Kurt Vonnegut (Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons, if you're wondering), an author whose work generates so many ideas while I read that I inevitably wind up reaching for a pen to start writing myself (always a good sign in any writer!), and I wondered what I could find of his work online ... what I found had so many layers of future impossible that I think even Kurt himself would have been amused ... I found a youtube video of a second life interview, where Kurt is interviewed by John Hockenberry of The Infinite Mind, a now-defunct (it seems) NPR radio show. Mind you, none of the people (not Kurt, not John, and certainly not any of the audience were actually together in any way. So if that isn't the future coming to call, I don't know what is.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
|In case you can't read the tag: "FREE FREE", just in case one "FREE" is not enough.|
|I speak to the trees, and the trees, well, they try to pick up girls ...|
|'Nuff said, I think.|
|What to do with the *rest* of the bag of marshsmallows when you've eaten enough.|
|One of the cheeriest bumper stickers I've ever seen.|
|You're probably tired after all that clicking ... this way to the iced tea.|
Monday, September 12, 2011
Way back a couple of weeks ago ... on my birthday, actually, Papergirl Vancouver rode out on their bikes and gave away hundreds of pieces of artwork, mine included. I DID actually manage to blog about it here and here. And I even managed to blog about the Papergirl exhibit launch here. But something else came out of my Papergirl experience, something kinda cool that I didn't even know existed until I was contacted.
Here's what happened ... at the Papergirl exhibit launch I got into a great little conversation with Jeanette. We walked around a bit together and showed each other the stuff we liked, and (without seeming too cocky) I'd have to say she really liked the collage I'd done, and I'd happened to bring a couple of extra prints along (just in case - you never know!) so I gave her one.
Now the funny thing is (and I'm sure I'm not the only person who feels like this) but I usually feel that what I've done is Not So Special. Oh, I like it fine, and I'm pretty happy when other people like it, but when other people Really Really Like It, I'm always a bit mystified. This topic came up at our art retreat, and I was finally able to find the words to describe why some of us are so hard on ourselves when it comes to our art ... basically, it boils down to: Other people see what we've done, while we see what we weren't able to do. For others, it's like we've made something out of nothing (where DO you get your ideas!?), but we see all the places where we "fudged" the process trying to get whatever it was in our heads onto the page, and even though we might *like* the result, it might not be exactly what we were hoping, so we doubt ourselves.
Anyway, big big thanks to Jeanette, who very kindly passed my info on to Jason at Illustrated Vancouver, who kindly asked me if he could add my artwork to his ongoing project to collect 1000 pieces of artwork featuring Vancouver. His collection is quite amazing, and even though I've only lived in Vancouver for 25 years, I know (and love) so many of the places featured in the pieces he's selected and I'm thrilled to be included. Also, now that I'm following his site regularly, I'm thrilled to see that not only is one of the blogs I regularly follow (Design Sponge) having a book launch October 1st in Vancouver, but they're holding it at Anthropologie (wait!? we have an Anthropologie store and I didn't know it!? Man .. I have *got* to get out more!). Just so you don't think I'm a design snob ... my favourite part of Design Sponge is where people post little cards saying what they love about their house, and the department I'm planning to hit at Anthropologie is the book section (of course!). So, all in all, double thanks to Jason for all that.
From the moment I saw the Papergirl Vancouver poster hanging in a store window in my neighbourhood just a few short days before their deadline, I knew I wanted to contribute something so they would be around next year. I knew exactly what I wanted to make, and how I was going to make it. And (luckily) I left the next day for my art retreat where I knew I would have the time and materials to pull it off. Their deadline was the day after I got back so I quickly had it scanned and printed, and then couriered to their office (I would have loved to deliver it in person, but I had to work!). The whole process from discovery to creation to delivery seemed magical in some way. Maybe magical isn't the right word ... but I felt like I was tuned in to something ... a flow ... a connection ... a pulse, yeah, that's more like it ... like there's a river of energy in the world all the time, and for some reason, for the duration of the project, I could feel it, and let it guide me. Anyone who knows me knows I'm a pretty down to earth, if-you-want-something-done-give-it-to-the-busy-person, here-let-me-organize-that-for-you kind of person, so having such a great result and having my artwork acknowledged that little bit further than I was ever expecting is pretty darn cool. Thanks again to Papergirl Vancouver, Jeanette, Jason and my ever-encouraging art retreat compadres (you know who you are!).
Sunday, September 04, 2011
|One of the many wonderful pieces donated to the event.|
|A feast of fabulousness hanging above us ...|
I attended the event with Lelainia, who'd also contributed some of her artwork, and she'd bravely agreed to say a few words to the assembled crowd on the experience from a participant's point of view. One of the cool things I noticed was how much *love* there was in the room. I may not be an expert on art show vibes, but this one was humming with excitement ... people were talking to each other, showing each other their "favourites" and shyly and/or proudly pointing out their own contributions. I expect a lot of people in attendance were the artists who'd contributed, but still ... it was a joy to hang out in such a positive, supportive atmosphere and groove on the creativity and generosity of all the people who made it happen.
There are plenty more pics at their blog, so go have a look. I'm sending out BIG THANKS to everyone at Papergirl Vancouver for a massively successful inaugural show. You did good!
Monday, August 15, 2011
Having cut up my traced and numbered drawing (see previous post), I started working from the background to the foreground. I laid each numbered template piece onto the selected envelope lining, being careful to match the top edge of the piece exactly but extending the bottom edge so there'd be something to glue the next layer onto.
The North Shore mountains were easy, and once I had them in place I could feel my confidence growing that my idea was going to work! Next I put in the forests of Stanley Park, and then moved east along the cityscape, putting skyscrapers in the background and layering lower buildings in front of them. There's no way I could be even close to accurate about the buildings given the scale I was working in, but I was highly amused to find an envelope lining from Telus (one of BC's largest phone companies) in my collection, so there is a Telus Building. The building just behind the Telus building is made from an envelope lining from the Hudson's Bay Company (thanks, Rose!), and if you know anything about Canadian history, you'll know why having an HBC building is very apropos.
The waves on English Bay are made with a series of lumpy almost concentric half ovals, starting with the largest on the bottom, and then all glued down at once, covering up the edges of the forest and the city. In the foreground, a path from a grass and shrubbery-edged manicured lawn leads down to the sandy beach.
Although I'd planned the cloud from the very beginning, I came across a zigzag lightning envelope lining that seemed oh so appropriate for how quickly the weather can turn here (yes, it can rain on a moment's notice!).
When it was all finished I realized the North Shore mountains needed *a little something* to break up their dark dominance, and while a few little snips of white would've given me seagulls, I thought if I was viewing the city from Jericho Beach or Spanish Banks (surely the location from whence this scene is viewed), what I'd mostly likely see is a floatplane headed for Burrard Inlet on the other side of Stanley Park. It took a few tries to get it down to a small size (it should probably be smaller, but my fingers kept getting in the way of the scissors) , and adding white wings made it uber-recognizable as a plane.
I'm just so tickled at how it turned out. I don't think I ever got from concept to completion on anything quite as fast as this (approx 8 hours), and it's something I'm happy to contribute to the Papergirl Vancouver project. If you live in Vancouver, keep an eye out for girls on bikes!
I wanted to do a recognizable Vancouver cityscape, and surprisingly, I was actually able to sketch one out. I guess I've been looking at The Lions (the two peaks on the mountains) long enough that I was able to capture them even though I was far away from home at the time I drew this. Guess that makes me a *real* Vancouverite now.
After I finished the sketch, I delineated the collage areas with a black felt pen, and numbered them so I could place all the pieces in the right location during construction.
Then I overlaid my sketch with another piece of blank paper, and traced the delineated areas, again numbering them, so that when I cut up the traced copy I could use the bits and pieces as templates for cutting out papers for the collage.
To see how it all turns out, check out my next post ...
Here's the premise ... people make art, they deliver their art to Papergirl, Papergirl rolls up all the art they receive and ride around on bicycles in the city giving the art out to random people on the street. An idea so cool that my heart went pitty-pat when I read about it. Check their website to see if Papergirl is happening in your part of the world. Also watch the cool videos to see how they do it.
I first saw a Papergirl poster last Wednesday while walking home in my neighbourhood. The "soft" deadline is August 15th, which is (ulp!) today. But not to worry ... I've just come home from one of my kickass art retreats and while there I had time to whip up a little something SO perfect for Papergirl that I still can't believe that: a) I got a great idea, b) had the time to do it and c) it turned out EXACTLY as I hoped it would. Cool.
Monday, August 08, 2011
Since this project will soon be in the hands of the collaborators, I think it's safe to post my contribution to a Nick Bantock-themed Tarot deck I was invited to join.
I have a fondness for Tarot decks and have quite a few in my ongoing collection, but I like collaborative artist decks even more. There's something fascinating about trying to distill ideas down to images, and then throw in some mystery of your own.
As well as creating our cards as a blend of "traditional" Tarot meanings and Bantock-inspired art, we were required to send a page of text to help the recipients interpret our cards. Here's what I sent for my version of Card No. 21/XXI ~ The World / Le Monde:
"Wherever you are, you are here. This is a time to reflect on your accomplishments before beginning the next stage of traveling. Relax and enjoy the fruits of your labour. There is the possibility of new journeys on the horizon, but in this moment stop and appreciate all you have learned on your way to this place." (Reversed) "Your success may be blocked, either by some external situation, or by you not being willing to see the truth of where you are. If you are planning a new venture be sure you get all the facts before committing yourself fully."
This month I should be consulting this card every day ... I decided since we've been less busy at work that I would "tidy" the studio. For some reason this turned into re-arranging the shelving, i.e. unloading everything into boxes onto the patio, unbolting the shelves from the wall, subtly tweaking their location (oh, for drag and drop in the real world!), rebolting them in their new locations and re-shelving everything. I'm not doing this on my own. I have the able, patient assistance of the person I live with. Who am I kidding? He's done all the unbolting, moving & rebolting, now all I have to do is all the un-boxing, sorting, purging, etc.
At this very moment (I'm trying very hard not to look too closely) the studio still looks like a very big snowglobe that's been given a rather energetic shake by a frustrated child high on sugary snacks. But it will be better ... soon. Or at least that's what I'm telling myself.
He (by the way) when asked how I should refer to him in my blog, got that deer in the headlights look, followed by a long awkward pause that perhaps contained several seconds of him considering whether it was too late to trade me in for someone who *didn't* have a blog, and wouldn't, under any circumstances, want to write about him. Eventually he said "just call me the chauffeur". So thanks, Monsieur le Chauffeur ~ couldn't have done it without you.
Friday, July 22, 2011
Anyway ~ just made me go all warm and fuzzy when I opened the envelope ~ I wondered why her zine felt a little thicker than usual. Lovely little thing, Rachel, thanks so much for the time you spent making it for me.
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
George came to our family in a most unusual way. At the time we lived in the back of beyond, a remote house on a remote road, without running water or electricity. My Dad had gone out to buy us a wood-burning cookstove. I was never clear where he bought it ~ he knew a man who knew a man who had a stove for sale, that sort of thing.
When it arrived, it was sadly in need of a cleaning and had probably been stored outdoors. While it was still on the back of the truck, my Dad opened up the oven and out popped a very frightened puppy ~ who skedaddled right off the truck and headed for the hills. What I recall of that day was my family wandering along the road and through the bush calling "Puppy! Puppy!" until it got too dark to see and we were in danger of getting lost ourselves. That night, as we talked and read around the kerosene lamps, we were all pretty solemn, thinking of that little puppy ~ cold, frightened and hungry ~ and knowing there wasn't even the remotest chance that anyone else would find him, and worse: that he might wind up as a bear's dinner.
But - happy day! The next morning on our way out to the woodpile, there he was ~ shivering with cold and hunger, still very frightened but having found his way back to us, willing to give us the very slimmest benefit of a doubt that we were better than the wild wild woods.
The first order of business was a name. My Mom said call him whatever we wanted, as long as it was anything but George. None of us could come up with anything that seemed to suit him, and for the first few days we called him Anything But George. Eventually (of course!) it just got shortened to George (sorry, Mom). Wherever he came from, he'd obviously been treated very badly. He crept along the walls in the house and whenever my Mom picked up the broom to sweep the floor he'd pee in fright. Making Jiffypop popcorn would drive him into a frenzy of fear, and he'd have to be put in a "safe" room. But, being a puppy, and surrounded by four kids who were like *so thrilled* to have a puppy, we gradually won him over.
Nobody really knew what sort of dog he was. From the knees up, he looked very much like a Border Collie, but his legs were so impossibly short that it's hard to imagine him herding anything but mice. With such short legs he couldn't run, so he "bounced". And I don't mean that figuratively ~ he actually moved like a springbok ~ he could bounce at least three times his own height. I remember he used to meet us at the school bus in the winter by bouncing OVER the snowbanks. The other kids would all gather on one side of the bus just to watch this crazy dog come to meet us. He also had an unusually large plume of a tail that cleared off the coffee table if he happened to walk past it while wagging happily.
If anything in my young life taught me how deep devotion can go, it was George. He followed us everywhere and was possibly the sweetest animal I've even known. He did this weird verbalization thing ~ sort of yawning and gurgling and nodding ~ like a baby might before it has words. Late one night after attending a concert, my brother and I were trying to sneak quietly into the house so as not wake anyone ~ but no dice, there was George at the top of the stairs, loudly "saying" how happy he was that we were home, and the more we giggled and told him to stop, the more happy, verbal and loud he got. Since mostly we lived in remote places, he'd grown up without other dogs to show him how to be a dog, so I think he thought he was one of us. He sat on the couch like we did (back straight, feet out), and got pretty miffed if he was left out of a treat that all the *other kids* were getting.
We always thought he was incapable of barking until we moved into a little neighbourhood that had three (count'em THREE houses!) and each house had a dog. One night at dinner we could hear a dog barking. It wasn't the deep voice of the German Shepherd in the house west of us, and it wasn't the soft yap of the little dog east of us ~ it was our very own George, who'd finally found his doggie voice ~ we all ran outside to see if he was okay, and he seemed as surprised as we were to find him barking. I was so darn proud of him in that moment, and even though we'd had him for years and loved away all the memories of how badly his life started, I felt like this was the moment he'd finally become "his own dog".
George was an important part of our family, but eventually I did what all children do ~ left home and started a life of my own. George was always happy to see me when I visited, and the other *kids* too, as they moved on. At the end of his life, he was quite infirm, and eventually in great pain. My parents sadly did the decent thing even though it broke their hearts, I'm sure. He lived a grand old life, adored by all of us, and he was, as far as I'm concerned, irreplaceable.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
On previous trips to England I've relied heavily on buying a copy of Time Out magazine on my way out of Heathrow Airport (oooh, place name dropping!). This year, I chose to do my pre-trip planning from the comfort of my own home, by checking out all the usual museums, etc. online first.
I got *really* excited when I saw that the British Library was hosting an exhibit called: "Out of This World : Science Fiction, But Not As You Know It". As a person who's read quite a lot of SF, particularly the classics, I wasn't expecting to see a bunch of "new" stuff ~ but (of course) I did. I spent some of my precious time writing down titles that needed to be checked out in the future (no pun intended), but at a certain point gave up and decided to buy the exhibit guidebook ~ which contained not only a complete list, but grouped them by theme and is profusely articled and illustrated.
Years ago when I was an obstreperous teenager, I remember arguing with my Dad about the merit of SF ~ he didn't see the point of it. I may have won that argument, he started reading SF after that. For me, SF has almost always been about the "big questions" ~ why are we here, what would the present look like if the past had been different, and what will the future look like if we make different choices now? As I see it, one of the tools of SF is that it lets you isolate one aspect of human existence and spin it out into the grand "what if?". Because in the end, however well the writers write, they are still human writers writing human stories for human readers, and I think the best of the best of the SF I've read over my life has made me a better human. And I continue to read SF ~ apart from the exhibit guidebook, most of the books I bought while in England were SF, and classics to boot ~ including one that's eluded me for years, but the how and when of buying it is an interesting story for another day ...
Sunday, July 10, 2011
This is one of the first of several hundred photos I took on vacation in England. This is the first year that I've carried my digital camera with me everywhere, and as a result I have pictures of stuff that I swear will be of *no* interest to anybody but me.
But we'll start with this one ~ which at least has the merit of being iconic. It was taken while standing on the Millennium Bridge looking back into The City (or "downtown" as we North Americans might say). I've never actually been into St. Paul's ... and since we were headed away from it and across the bridge to the Tate Modern, I didn't make it there that day either. It occurred to me (as I took this photo) that somebody went to a whole lot of trouble to make sure that people walking north on the bridge (i.e. heading towards the "downtown") would have a great view. This might not seem like it would be difficult to arrange, but if you've ever been to London and seen it's windy, twisty streets, you'll know a clear view of *anything* is tricky.
Since there are (literally) hundreds of photos, I'm going to do a series of short posts with a new picture each time. I may even spin the wheel (metaphorically speaking) and write about whatever photo I happen to land on. Today you were lucky and got St. Paul's.
Next time, who knows? I have a disconcertingly large number of photos of textures, particularly stone walls, walkways, brickwork etc etc. They're for a future art project and the more I noticed them the more I noticed them, if you know what I mean. I'll let the wheel land there once, but there's only so much you can say about rocks ...
So nice to be home ...
Friday, May 27, 2011
It's been a few years since I laid my hands on tools as beefy and vigorous as the ones we used in this class. Michael gave us a guided tour of the tools and rules before we set off ... how to (or how not to) drill, burn, scrape, paint, attach, detach and puncture nearly every material imaginable, what sticks to what (and what doesn't). A good refresher for me.
And then we set to working with our amazing variety of shapes and sizes of bottles. Some of us came with something like a clear plan of what we wanted to do to the bottles we'd brought with us. Some of us were busy rifling through our bulging containers of random bits and pieces hoping a juxtaposition of materials would activate a lightbulb over our heads.
My bottle was supposed to be a "practice bottle". I thought I'd tinker with it until I got a clear idea of what to do with a lovely (and rare) tapered squarish bottle I'd brought. But the practice bottle somehow took on a life of its own. Michael's supply list had included some materials I'd never worked with (apoxy clay, primarily), and I set about a little task to test its strengths and weaknesses. My test was to raise up the bottle off the table by creating a "fence" of hairpins around the bottom. I wanted a space underneath to put something (I wasn't sure what at the time). Not only did the apoxy clay work ~ it worked fabulously, although it did take some time to dry. As for what went underneath, well even I didn't see that coming.
The day went by very quickly, each of us hard at work on our own little creation, and Michael flitting about the room answering questions and offering assistance with the more dangerous experiments involving sharp revolving metal things and/or fire. He also gave us a really in-depth session on how to mix those crazy paint colour combinations he comes up with. I have to admit that learning his paint mixes was a huge motivation for me choosing his class and he didn't disappoint. I indulged in one his Shades of Alchemy swatch books - it's just the sort of thing I'd create if I'd come up with paint names like Serial Killer Red and Verdigris Crunch.
Somewhere along in the morning Michael reminded us that he would playing music all day, but at 4:00 (sharp!) he'd be playing the theme music to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and we'd be expected to bring our creations (at whatever stage of completion) for a group show & tell and critique. I must admit that the first few times he said this I didn't really get the full import of his statement, and didn't even catch the ironic humour of the song title. Bruce and I had just re-watched The Good, The Bad and The Ugly a few weeks before Artfest, and my first thought was how cool the music was. Somewhere after lunch (when he said it again!) I finally got it. Also, my piece was definitely headed for the Ugly category at that point in the afternoon. Okay, maybe not "ugly", but definitely not "done".
At the appointed hour (4:00, as I mentioned) we all gingerly placed our ex-bottles (which were now sculptural to the nth degree) on a long table and gathered our chairs to see what Michael might make of our efforts. It's been awhile since I've been in on a critique session. Okay, there was a writing workshop with Lynda Barry, but her critique (as promised before the writing exercises) was simply to say: "Good! Good!" with genuine enthusiasm and move on to the next reader. So what would Michael say, I wondered. Firstly, I give him full marks for asking each person "Is your piece pickupable?" before gently holding it up for us to see. I can honestly say he never once said anything negative, even when the creator in question (including me) was not so confident about how exactly to finish off. I thought my piece was a little "light and frothy", especially compared to some of the darker pieces in the class, and Michael said not to worry, to finish it the way it wanted to be finished. I'm glad I listened, I kept it light, tending towards a kind of weathered Victorian ornamentation rather than the aforementioned Serial Killer Red.
If the variety of bottles before we started was exotic, the variety of things we'd done to them was astounding. The question I asked several times of the artist whose work was being held up was "HOW did you do THAT?!". There's something about the layering of paint and texture that can completely obscure the methods and materials, and that's pretty darn exciting when you're an artist ~ that you can make masking tape look like worn linen, that you can make glass look like rusted steel, that you can make plastic netting look like metal mesh (which is what is wrapped around my bottle).
I hadn't finished my piece by the end of the day, and I spent a few hours after class getting it ready for the Big Show & Tell at the end of Artfest (where all the students are encouraged to show the results of their 3-day adventure). When I bumped in Michael doing the rounds at the Show & Tell, he asked me if I'd finished. "Of course," I said. He asked me to show him what I'd done, and I have to say that even though I was pretty happy with what I'd done it was icing on the cake to have him *really* look at it and appreciate the final result. He looked almost as pleased as me, and then he high-fived me, which I think is quite possibly the first time in my life I've ever been high-fived and even thinking of it now makes me grin.
I'm not sure what to call this piece, although the name that sprang to mind while I was working on it was "Where Sweet the Late Bird Sang" in honour of a Kate Wilhelm SF story. It's been awhile since I read Kate's story, but in some ways this piece reminds me of her writing. You think you're reading about one thing, and then you find yourself aware of some darker undercurrent that's actually been present all along. At the Artfest Show & Tell, just as I was about to pack away my things, a young woman came along with a friend and said: "This is the one I was telling you about. You think it's all pretty, and then you see the hands underneath and you get a little chill ...". I smiled to myself and thought of Kate ... ah, *just* the affect I was going for.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Today's image is from my encaustics class with Patricia Seggebruch. I'd tinkered with encaustics before ... even bought one of those little encaustic irons after 2 days of classes last year.
The classes I took last year were definitely a more painterly approach to encaustic wax. I struggled mightily to create things that looked like real trees and flowers with a medium that seemed spitefully determined to look like crashing sea waves, nebulae and psychedelic dream sequences in 1970's movies. I felt a certain urgency to get things right, even while the hot iron was sliding dreamily about on a cushion of hot wax which looked deliciously edible and exotic. At the end of two days I could see that if I stayed at it, I would eventually be able to do landscapes, floral arrangements and other non-psychedelic representations of reality.
The trouble was that I wanted something *deeper* ~ I wanted the wax to be absorbed into stuff, be embedded with stuff, be scratched into with tools and have pigment rubbed into it. I wanted encaustics that even the hard of seeing could enjoy ~ by running their fingers over edges and bumps. I wanted to look at the surface of the wax and feel like I was looking *through* something into something else ~ like fog, or water ~ getting hints and glimpses of what lay beneath. A kind of archaeologically sculptural experience, rather than a painterly one.
Luckily, that's exactly the kind of encaustics that Patricia was teaching at Artfest. What I've shown you here is my "warm-up" exercise ~ we were given three small boards, and then shown a whole bunch of possible ways to alter them. I decided immediately that I would make a tryptich showcasing as many techniques as I could ... the red panel has embedded pattern tissue, and surface incising with oil paint added. The center blue panel has image transfer, and scattered gold leaf crumbs embedded. The last yellow panel has texture built up by stencilling through punchinella, text made by impressing with metal letters and dotted lines made with a pattern tracing tool with red oil paint added. All three had underpainting with pigmented wax and their edges tinted with pan pastels, and then overpainted with medium again.
Our main project for the class was a book with wooden covers that we altered with encaustics, and although I tried a few more techniques, the end result was a little boring after the freedom of playing with the triptych. I think (having made more than a few books in my time) that I stayed to the tried and true in the book construction and really didn't let loose the way I had with the warm-up exercise. A shame that ... there were some really amazing books that came out of the class, mine just wasn't one of them.
So ... I have this *problem* when I make art ... I just get so *danged* attached to it that I can barely let it go. Whenever I make something, I always (yes, ALWAYS!) make two ~ so I can keep one. It makes the letting go a little easier. But I have to say ... encaustics might be the thing I can finally do where I'm not compelled to keep one of everything. I can see myself actually parting with my creations happily ... not because I don't love them just as much, but because they're so much fun to make that the sheer volume of keeping one of everything could easily overwhelm any storage space I might have. Of course, in reality, the supplies cost a fair whack, so that should help keep the volume down as well.
Since Artfest I haven't yet invested in all the accoutrements of encaustics (apart from buying the iron last year), but I know I will because it was just way too much fun. Now if I could just find a wholesale supplier of wax medium, I'd be a very happy camper ...
Friday, May 06, 2011
I claim no particular genius in reading so early, it was most likely due to the fact that in my early years I lived in what we called "the bush", i.e. smallish dwellings in deep forests far from town, and without the benefit of television or (that I can recall), even radio. There were only limited options for self-amusement: go outside and play (which at some times in the year might result in freezing to death), make art (still doing that ~ plus ca change!), help with housework (um ... ick), and reading. Reading seemed the most reasonable of these, since constant art-making was not on the cards due to the shocking absence of craft stores in the deep forest. Reading had the added advantage that I could learn about the Great World Beyond, where I would (and eventually did) go. Even in the smallest of our dwellings, there was always a corner designated: The Library. It might only be a bookcase, but to us it was a Library. I didn't actually get my own public library card till I was 13 or 14 I think. But that's another story and completely unrelated to my reading habits.
Anyone who's been to my house can attest to my ongoing love of books. I *do* have a library card now, but I seldom borrow books. But only because I can't bear to give them back. It's like I form a bond with them ... a contract ... that having read them once, I will read them again, and again, and how can I do that if someone else has them? No ... better to buy them outright. Well, at least until you run into the problem we currently have - no more wall space for more bookcases. Sigh.
Meanwhile, back to the book that inspired this ramble ... or, why have I put a picture of Jonathan Safran Foer's book Tree of Codes here for you to see? I can't claim to have read it. I'm not sure if it's good. But it's definitely interesting. A book after my own heart. In order to find out why, I offer the following videos: public reactions, how it was made and Jonathan says.
In "how it was made" I was particularly touched by a scene midway (2:42) showing pages being hand-collated, a process I've been intimately involved with since I was 18 and continuing up to the present day. Oh, and the cutter shown at 2:33? I know my way around that, too. Granted, I spend much more time nowadays at a desk interacting with a computer (who doesn't?), but if push comes to shove (which it sometimes does), I can cut, collate and bind if needed. Maybe not on as grand a scale as the video, but hey - we can't all be big publishing houses, can we?
The video portrays my very familiar world in an almost romantic way ... the snow of little diecuts falling from the sky ... the tenderness of little suction cups feeding sheets into the press ... the lush musical score. And for all the times that I really really really do not want to go to work (constant art-making is much more fun), there is an ordered beauty to the printing process that makes me really happy too. And I wanted to share it with you.
Monday, April 25, 2011
My first day's class was Roxanne Padgett's Lush Layered Canvas. I'd taken a class with Roxanne at Journalfest, so I had an inkling (paintling?) of what was coming, but I knew I had SO much more to learn from her. Like how not to be so timid with colours. Okay, I'm still timid, but it's not her fault ~ it's just going to take a few more whacks on the brain to make me more adventurous.
The first thing she had us do was paint a colour wheel, and you know in all the exposure I've had to art, art classes, art teachers and art supplies, I've never actually sat down and made a colour wheel before, and I gotta say - it was a treat. Yes, yes, of *course* I know the primaries, and the secondaries and even the tertiaries, and how it only takes a little bit of dark to significantly alter a whole bunch of light, but doing it was very instructive all the same. Roxanne's advice ("How *not* to make mud") was perhaps the most useful of all, since making mud is the thing that usually scares me away from playing with paint in the first place. We also learned about tints, shades and complements - the stuff that we all think we know about ~ and then you sit down and do it and you see it in a fresh way.
We worked on four pieces at once ... canvas, linen, bottom weight (no snickering out there!) and just your average pre-printed cotton. I eschewed the pre-printed cotton (which was too beautiful to paint on ~ sorry, Roxanne!), and opted to make my fourth piece on paper. Funnily enough, I think I like the paper one best of all. Probably because I chose colours near and dear to me (the colour coward wins again!). Anyway, that's the one I've shown you above. Our basic modus operandi was to start with broad strokes on the bottom layer, and work our way up to more and more detailed layers as we went. We moved from piece to piece, letting each successive layer dry as we did so ... by the time I finished layer one on the last piece, the paint on the first piece had dried enough to move on to layer two, etc etc.
I *did* try to coax the colour coward out of the box, but the results were (to my mind) so atrocious it's one of the few times I wished I could turn back time so I could *undo* my work and go back to the step before when I'd really, really, really liked the piece. Oddly enough, this is the piece (other) people seem to respond most positively to, so obviously I am *no* judge of anything. And no, I'm *not* going to show you that one. Well, not right now ... maybe after I stop sulking and trying to turn back time. This negative turn of events made me chicken out of finishing one of the other pieces, since I knew I was on the verge of Doing Something Undoable That I Might Regret to it and I wanted to think about it a bit before I did that. So that's why I'm not showing you that one either.
I blame *none* of this on Roxanne, who is an amazing and generous teacher. When I'd taken her class at Journalfest I spent most of my time muttering things like: brilliant!, why didn't I think of that? and OMG (in a good way). This time I resolved to a) take better notes, and b) take lots of photos, both of which I'm happy to say I did. I came home fired up to cut my own stencils! use paper plate palettes that become art in themselves! and never waste paint!
So far, I cut two stencils in class: an anatomical heart (loosely based on one of Roxanne's own stencils) and a rowboat, and since I got home I've been experimenting with a woodburning knife to *cut* my own stencils in acetate ~ hey, it works! Instead of paper plates, I've opted to use file folders for palettes (I have like 200 of them and they lay flat, and I can use their random painty goodness in future zines!). And I've been smudging, stenciling and stamping my about-to-be-leftover paint onto already-leftover bits of canvas lying about the studio. Cool ~ looks like I actually learned something.
The dress stencil I used on the piece above is one of Roxanne's own multi-step designs, and she has a *wealth* of ideas about stencils ~ commercially-available, cut-your-own, stuff that was never intended to be used as stencils, you name it ... she's made me aware that I should keep my eyes open at *all* times for hidden pattern and texture opportunities. I'd highly recommend anyone interested in this sort of stuff take a class with Roxanne - she's the bomb.