Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Evolution of an Idea ...

Sometimes in the creative process your brain finds something interesting ~ an image, a process, a juxtaposition ~ and then one day you realize its been showing up in your work in different ways over a period of time without any apparent conscious decision on your part. I thought I might present a series of works I've done over the last year to illustrate this point ...

The first (known) occurrence of what I've decided to call "little tree" syndrome happened at a retreat I attended last October called Faith and the Arts, hosted by Jill Cardwell, organizer of the Creativitea meetup group. Some of you may be surprised to find me at a retreat called Faith and the Arts. So was I. One of the things I've said about my strict religious upbringing is that it acted more as an immunization against religion rather than an indoctrination. But setting that aside, I think the creative experience is also a spiritual one and when presented with an opportunity to "be present" with whatever drives my creativity, and to share that time with other people considering the same question, I attended with an open mind and an open heart.

At the retreat we were given a blank journal, and over the course of the 3 days I filled it with collages, writing and drawings. One day we began our creative exploration with a simple, elegant prayer, which I later collaged into the journal spread below. Something about the earthiness of the magazine imagery I found and the way I tore the top edge created a kind of hillside and made me think of the main part of the page as "subterranean", so I decided to reinforce that by drawing little trees along the hill's top edge ...

A few months later I went away to my regular art journalling retreat (I know, I know ~ how lucky am I to have all these retreats to go to?) and I was playing around in one of my ongoing projects La Musee d'une Vie Inventee (The Museum of an Invented Life), and I found myself again creating a page with that same subterranean dark hillside feel. And again, a tree just seemed like the thing that was needed. This time I added some roots, perhaps to show that the character exiting on the right was not only leaving the landscape behind, but also her roots ...

A few months later, I was working on my submission for The Sketchbook Project. I'd decided to illustrate a  short story I'd written in my journal a few years ago, and (since I can't draw) I thought it might be fun to do it using torn paper collage. At one point I realized I wanted tall trees, and realizing the limitation of fine detail with torn collage, I decided to draw them. The little trees in my previous work came to the rescue, although I'm not sure my attempt was completely successful, at least they *do* look like trees ...

A few months ago my art journalling group had an Art Journal Zine Exchange ~ something we do from time to time to share our work with each other, and I wanted to include some of the pages from the Faith and the Arts retreat, but the page size was a completely different shape and size. I photocopied the original pages to a smaller size and then shortened them as well. The prayer seemed out of context with the rest of the zine, so I replaced it with inspiring quotes, something my art journal group also shares with each other on a regular basis ...

Okay .. we're almost up to the present ... a few weeks ago I bought a LARGE jar of black gesso. Like a lifetime supply. I started painting some more background pages in La Musee d'une Vie Inventee, and had a bit left over (you know how it is) ... I grabbed some blank ATCs so that nothing would go to waste. And the first swipe across my card was (you guessed it) ... that hillside shape again. So I painted a bunch of them. Like 30. I had to get more black gesso, but when a good idea strikes I feel it would be just rude to ignore it. After the ATCs dried,  I started drawing (you guessed it) ... little trees. Which were shortly joined by fences (as in the page above with the person leaving the landscape). As I was drawing I was thinking about human-scaled objects that might be seen in silhouette on hilltops, and I thought of parks, park benches and bicycles, so I threw a couple of those in as well. And when I'd drawn all the little pictures, I remembered the quotes I'd added to the zine pages, and started looking through some random text pages that I keep on my desktop for cleaning my brayer when I'm using the gelli plate, and little stories started to appear ...


I'm calling them "momentaries", as in commentaries on little moments, maybe? Well, anyway ... yesterday while working on the last of the momentaries to prepare for my ATC group trading session this upcoming Sunday, one story surfaced that seemed to be particularly meaningful and made me stop and think of all sorts of other moments. I'm not sure what it might mean for anyone else, but it felt like it wanted to be shared and it felt like the right thing to follow that instinct ...

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Recent adventures in art : giving books the eyeball ...

Left: "Temptation". Right "Dragon Watch"
One evening last week my friend Tammy dropped by with some new fun art material to play with. She'd recently taken a class creating "eyeball" books and thought I might enjoy making one for myself. She was oh so right.

In my opinion, you can always tell a good art material by how much it bends to the artist's vision. And in this case, I didn't so much have a vision as a hunch. Well, actually not so much a hunch as a willingness to see what popped up when I started playing. The base books are quite small and very very cheap. Like dollar store cheap. The sculpting material is apoxie clay ~ the jar A + jar B = hardens in air over the course of a couple of hours kind of clay. Not cheap, but definitely worth it.

"Dragon Watch" on the right measures 3.75" x 5.4" and was the first book I made. Wish I'd had the forethought to take pictures before I started, but I'm a *little* impatient when I get an idea. The original cover was matte black with big bright glossy flowers. You'd never know that now, of course.

After mixing A+B, I spread a thin layer completely over the front of the book, paying particular attention to those glossy flowers. I wasn't sure the apoxie would stick to them, but it held on marvelously. The focal point (no pun intended) is the eye. I dug through my random art supplies and found this beautiful clear sea green marble, and started layering bits of apoxie around it to form the eyelids and brow ridge. Almost immediately the marble seemed to turn black (no light shining through anymore - d'uh!). Ah well, live and learn, I figured. Once I had the eyeball in place, I began rolling small balls of apoxie clay and layering them around the eye in what seemed like a "natural" way. I resisted the urge to google lizards to see what I should be doing. I'm stubborn that way. As time passed, the apoxie was getting stiffer and stiffer, so it's a good thing my "hunch" wasn't too ambitious. The interesting thing for me was how lifelike it all turned out. Even before it was painted the eye just sort of looks at you. It's a little creepy, but in a good way, I guess.

The next day I (again!) didn't take a picture before painting. Just too impatient to get started. I decided to gesso the whole thing (front and back cover) to cover up the rest of the bright glossy flowers on the back, then I gave the whole thing an undercoat of purple. I know. Dragons aren't purple. But I wanted to get some layers in there and, following another hunch, purple seemed like the right colour. When that was dry I overpainted with Chromium Green, then rubbed off some of it to let some purple show through, and then lightly brushed the high areas with iridescent turquoise. The last step (which I have yet to do) is to find a nice bit of red ribbon to replace the current bookmark, so Dragon Watch will have a tongue! And the thing about the green-marble-now-turned-black is that in certain lights, you get a reflection from deep in the eye that makes you *really* feel like the book is looking back. Cool.

I had a bit of leftover apoxie mixed up (once you've mixed A+B together, there's no going back and apparently creating a dragon takes less clay than you think) so I decided to use it up on a second book.

The second book, "Temptation" (on the left) is a mere 3" x 4.25". I loved the little fabric circle on the front so much that I didn't want to cover it, and as I was rolling out the remaining apoxie into a "snake" of clay it occurred to me that I could indeed make a snake and have it curl around the circle. I'll confess right now that at this point I should have googled snakes to see what they look like (I'm pretty sure their heads look *nothing* like what I made), but the apoxie was getting stiffer by the minute and I just went for it. I had just the teeniest bit of leftover after I made the snake, so I thought I'd add one more little detail ... which turned out to be an apple. I wish I could say I'm clever enough to think of these things ahead of time ... oh yeah, I *totally* planned for a snake and an apple, but no ... I just wung it. (Wung it, as in past tense of "to wing it").

When the snake was down I was seriously impressed with how firmly the whole thing was stuck to the book. Even before it was dry I simply could not budge it. I made a diamond back pattern with my book-making awl (don't tell my book binding kit!), and then poked a series of holes that I thought I would glue beads into after painting, and a hole in the top of the apple for a stem of twisted wire, and a leaf of painted text paper sandwiched around some strong baling wire. The next morning I painted the snake with iridescent green and turquoise, and the apple in quinacridone red. Getting the beads in the holes was easy. Keeping them there was a whole other deal. You try sticking sticky beads in sticky holes with sticky fingers and get back to me. I eventually wound up using a pair of toothpicks as chopsticks, and then overpainted the whole thing with a layer of glue just to be safe. I was worried the glue would dull the iridescent paints, but it looks fine, and the beads are well and truly stuck. Phew!

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Recent adventures in art : Flower Pounding with Magpie's Nest

It's been a month since I posted anything here, but that doesn't mean my hands have been idle. Today, for instance, I made my way over to Britannia Community Centre for a Flower Pounding free pop-up art workshop hosted by the Magpie's Nest Community Art Space.

I've never done flower pounding before, but the concept is almost as simple as it sounds ... put a layer of flower blossoms, leaves, etc., between a sheet of watercolour paper and a piece of fabric, and then whack at it with a small hammer in a determined sort of way. My favourite method was using the rounded head of a ball peen hammer, and work my way pointilistically over the surface of the bloom or leaf.

I decided to create a sort of "impossible botanical sampler" ~ a plant with a variety of blooms and leaves. I wanted to see what kind of result I'd get from each blossom. I began with whole flowers and leaves at the top, but by the time I reached the bottom I'd learned that placing each petal individually gave me more satisfactory results. On the left-hand side is the muslin "print" of the flowers, with the paper "print" on the right. The magpies had brought a massive amount of flowers and leaves to choose from, as well as a big stack of prepared fabrics and paper, but I thought I better keep my project small and manageable.

I'm not sure how permanent the colours will be, but they're very lovely and soft at the moment. I found it interesting how the colours changed even while I worked on it. The three-petaled brown-yellow flower on center outside edge was actually three petals from a large orange lily. The yellow inner edges very not much different in colour from the petals initially, but retain their yellowness even now. But while pounding the outer edge of the petals, each strike of the hammer would result in a vivid orange dot on the fabric, but it quickly (within seconds) changed to purple/brown you see above. Oddly beautiful transition that only the person pounding would ever see.

This was Day 2 of the flower pounding workshop, and (judging by the noise level) well attended! Some people who'd been in on Saturday for Day 1 came back with friends, so it was a bit deafening at some points ~ probably one of their noisier workshops. But as someone across the table said to me today: "Funny how the noise doesn't bother you when it's you doing the hammering!". Perhaps this act of creativity would be a good form of stress relief as well ...

Big thanks to all the lovely Magpies at Magpie's Nest Community Art Space. Their events are always well organized and welcoming, and fully stocked for whatever diverse art activity they have planned. If you live in Vancouver (or nearby), I highly encourage you to sign up for one of their meetups. Their events are creative, free and kid-friendly. As a person who's usually on the organizing end of this sort of thing, it's a real treat for me to just drop in and enjoy the atmosphere when these talented and dedicated people bring their unique events to the community. Well done!

Saturday, June 08, 2013

More gelli fun - zine covers + envelopes ...

Finally had some time this afternoon to sit down with my Gelli Arts plate again. My goal today was to make some bases for zine covers and goodie envelopes for an upcoming zine swap. Although it might look like it, I didn't actually approach my colour choices in any kind of organized way. I just arranged them this way for the photograph afterwards.

I usually use a variety of paints, but these ones were mostly made with higher quality paints so I could get good "pick up" when pulling up residue paint off the plate. On the higher end, some colours were Golden, as well as Kroma (a local paint company in Vancouver). Kroma tends to be very buttery and lovely to work with. I love their pigment quality and how they blend. Slightly down the economic scale, there is some Pebeo and Amsterdam acrylics. Still good pigment, but not as good on the pick up. My new favourite colour is still Titanium White - the zine cover on the right-hand end must have about eight layers of uglier and uglier paint experiments - all saved by cross-texturing wavy lines in white. Fabulous.

For this gelli plate session I used some of my favourite "pattern makers" : 12x12 stencils from The Crafters Workshop, two pieces of wavy corrugated paper (not sure of the name or the source ... still trying to track down more of this stuff!) as well just plain old dragging a triangle graining tool through the wet paint.

I only foresee one problem with these zine covers ... I have to give them away in the swap. I wish I didn't fall in love with all the stuff that comes off the Gelli ... it would make life easier when it comes time to hand things over, even when I'm getting a bona fide art journal zine from some pretty amazing artists in exchange. Sigh.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Inspiration vs. Imitation ...

Card I made for an inspiration deck exchange. Hand image: from Teesha Moore's zettiology rubber stamp collection.
There was a time when I didn't make art. Oh, I made *stuff* - cards and gifts for people, things that were useful for myself. For a period of ten years I wrote, edited and mailed a monthly newsletter to about a hundred people. The newsletter was full of whatever I was interested in at the time. Looking back now I don't know where I found the time. Or that many things to write about, actually.

Then I found art. One day I realized that I didn't just want to be looking at interesting stuff ~ I wanted to be making it. There was just one little problem: I didn't think of myself as an artist. I couldn't draw or paint (still can't, really) and didn't even know where to begin. I thought it would be smart to look art that inspired me and see if I could identify what made those pieces "beautiful" to me. Once I'd cracked that, I could start making my own "art". Easy peasy. Or not.

I could feel the creativity flowing through my heart and brain, but when it reached my hands it kind of ... sputtered and failed ... leaving me sad and frustrated, unable to translate whatever it was inside me into some kind of visual form I could share.

One day while carefully examining the work of a famous artist, I began to see all its parts ... the composition, the rich colours, the layers of deep meaning. How all the bits of it spoke to all the other bits of it and communicated something of their relationship to me. I wanted so badly to make Art like this, with a capital A, but I worried that anything I created would only be a feeble imitation of this artist's work, not an original work of my own.

Then I had a revelation.

If the artist of the piece I admired came to me and gave me a kit of his own materials, and even if he stood there telling me what to and I tried my best to imitate him, I still couldn't help but create something original. Through the subtle decisions involved in the creative process, the finished piece would be a reflection of *my* vision, not *his* vision at all. And just as my vision was different from his, it was also different from any other person in the world. Something I'd always known deep inside, but hadn't trusted.

So ... I had "vision" ...all I lacked was skill. I've been learning skills all my life ... walking, talking, reading, cooking ... all I had to do was learn new skills and trust the vision to be there. And it was, and is.

Another thing happened ... I stopped being afraid of imitating art that inspired me. I realized there are some things you can only learn by doing. I'm sure there's some magic brain chemistry going on when we explore new creative territory. It's one thing to passively enjoy a work you admire ... with your eye to follow the curve of a face in one of Leonardo's paintings, it's quite another to put a piece of chalk in your hand to try to recreate it. You have to make a million little decisions as you go along ... angle of wrist, location of mark on  paper, pressure of chalk as you move it, how curved is the curve? And you learn, learn, learn every step as you go.

Recently I was playing around with some fun new backgrounds (remember the "paper pillows" from my last post?), and I wanted to try drawing something on top. Something colourful and playful and ... oh yeah ... maybe sorta like Dan Casado's work, which I admire so much. So using his piece The Boat as a jumping off point, I played a little bit with shapes and colours I wouldn't normally use. I've learned not to bite off more than you can chew, so I selected just the two people in the boat. I ditched the moon. And the dog. I wanted to see if I could understand the posture of the person rowing and maybe capture something of their facial expressions. I wanted to get the angle of the boat in relationship to the water.

Left: Dan Casado's The Boat (reproduced with the artist's permission). Right: My own little boat.

Along the way some things worked and some things didn't. One of my people (for reasons I don't understand) needed glasses. And the other one wanted arms. And a pocket.  The water became more fluid. But the oar is good, as is the hand holding it. And I adore those freaky blue noses. Only later did I realize that my colourful squares in the background kind of mirror the colourful squares in the standing boatman's body in the original.

When I was more or less happy with what I'd done, I then did something rather cheeky. I emailed Mr. Casado (who, trust me, I do not know from Adam). He lives in the Canary Islands. Never met him. I emailed him my artwork and asked if it would be okay if I posted his excellent artwork next to my own and then write about the process of learning by doing. Inspiration, and not imitation. Not only did he answer amazingly quickly *and* say yes (I wouldn't have posted his artwork otherwise), but he also had kind things to say about my work as well. Which makes me like him, and his work, all the more. If you haven't seen his work, go there now ... I highly recommend it to get you into your paintbox, or at the very least to make you see things in new and colourful ways. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

The return of Hyperbole and a Half ...

Long days ago most of us watched the same TV channels and had some sort of communal experience. If you heard about something, the odds were very good that most of the people in your immediate vicinity heard about it too. And even if you never talked about it you could go through your life feeling like there was a kind of general fabric of life that most of the people around you operated in.

And then came the internet.

The internet is a weird place. I guess we all know that. You can be attached to people you don't even know. You can pretend people you do know don't exist by un-friending them. You can be amazed, amused and instructed by things created by people all over the world who don't know (or care) you exist. You can chip in a few bucks and fund an landfill orchestra in Paraguay (I did). You can be horrified as well. That's how it works.

That general fabric of life that you thought everyone operated in kinda stopped existing at some point. But time passed and you started getting the hang of that as well. You just accepted that your next door neighbour, your family and even your best friend was surfing radically different sites than you and looking up stuff on wikipedia that you'd never even heard of. That's okay ... you hardly spoke to your neighbour anyway, and your family was miles away and your new best friend might be on the other side of the planet because of your deep mutual fascination with some microcosmic detail of a book you both read when you were 10. That, my friends, is progress. Right?

But, at the heart of everything, we're still human (the last time I checked anyway), and the impulse to attach to other people is pretty strong. The need to feel something in common with someone, to be understood, to be appreciated, and to understand and appreciate in return. The good part of being human.

You probably wonder where all this is going. Well ... there's this blog I read. The person who posts on it is entirely unknown to me in the real world. Don't know if it's a he or a she or how old, or where they live. Let's call this person Allie (which I believe is this person's real name). I think Allie may be a she, but possibly because I'm a she, or possibly because so much of what Allie writes about hits the mark for me. But (having said that) the things that most hit the mark for me are things about being human, not about being a she.

Allie never posted very frequently. The posts were always accompanied by roughly drawn and bitingly adorable characters made in a primitive paint program, possibly even THE paint program that was birthed way back at the beginning of our computer age. I would eagerly await Allie's posts. There was so much truth and pain and funny packed in the posts they would often make me laugh and cry at the same time. One post I particularly remember was about accompanying someone to the hospital and this person being handed a visual pain indicator chart with a series of faces on it. The faces ranged from a smiley face "0" (feeling good, I presume) to a crying non-smiley face "10" (indicating a level of pain). Allie felt this was totally inadequate to the situation and drew a new version which would better represent the experience. Allie also wrote a wickedly creepy story about a teenage boy beset by a birthday party's worth of little girls that raised the hair on the back on my neck.

The last time I read something new was almost two years ago. The last I read, Allie was on the verge of having the posts ~ the stories and the crazy primitive paint drawings ~ published in book form. I told Allie (via the comment section, along with a lot of other readers) that I was *so* looking forward to owning her book. And then it looked like a whole lot of nothing happened.

The internet is a weird place. If someone you're used to reading drops off the net, you can never be sure why. Was their computer stolen? Were they hit by a bus? Did they marry someone fabulously rich who whisked them away to a remote island with no electricity? I missed Allie's truth-speaking, exaggerated whirlwind stories. I missed how Allie got to the nub of life in just a few words. I missed the simply drawn but I-*so*-know-what-you-mean little people faces. I wondered what happened ...

This morning I noticed a new post from Allie. It's about depression.

I think everyone at some time or other in their life comes face to face with it. Some of us are able to bring ourselves back from the brink before it all starts spiraling out of control, some not so much. I read through the post. It's pretty amazing. It made me think of times in my life when things looked pretty bad and how I made it back. It made me worry that some day Allie won't make it back. My first instinct was to leave a comment telling Allie how amazing the post was and that I was glad s/he was better now. Then I noticed that 5000 other people were already there (yes, really - 5000!) saying very much that same thing. I read some of the comments and pretty much anything I'd be brave enough to say was already said in the first 200 comments.

I decided to do the next best thing I could think of - write my own post and send a few people Allie's way. Even if you've never been depressed I'd lay strong odds that you know someone who has. I highly recommend reading Allie's post. It may be the most true, useful, uncensored (and yet still awkwardly funny) account of the illogical experience of depression I've read. If thinking about reading about depression is too depressing, start somewhere randomly in the Allie's post archives. Get a feel for how Allie writes, enjoy the biting wit and the quirky drawings and then read the most recent post later.

And then go out and have some kind of grateful amazing day.

Friday, May 10, 2013

A little kickstarter happiness boost ...

What?! Two blog posts in one day? How did that happen ...

I guess pretty much everyone online on the planet knows about Kickstarter (and it's shyer twin, Indiegogo), but I got an update today from Landfill Harmonic, one of the projects I backed, and I just re-watched their video because it made me feel so good the first time around.

I'm posting it here, not because they need the money (they're over their initial goal already, and are now aiming for their "stretch" goals) but because I felt I wanted more people to know about them, and yes, they've still got 4 days to the end of the project, so if you *do* want in, now's a good time. 

I'm not going to *make* you go watch their video, but if you need a reminder there are good people out there doing amazing creative things in impossible circumstances, this would be it.

We are not to throw away those things which can benefit
our neighbor. Goods are called good because they can be used
for good: they are instruments for good, in the hands
of those who use them properly.
- Clement of Alexandria

Another batch of postcards ready to go out for an international swap ...

Another batch of postcards ready to go out for an internationalswap.
One of the things I love about making art is that you can keep re-creating ideas in new ways. The phrase on this postcard has had more than a few incarnation over the years. I have a weird affinity for sentences where all the words have the same length, and in the past I've put this phrase into a tidy little grid. This time around I gridded the background and let the words be funky (i.e. random type and not lined up, lest you think I mean something else).

This background is becoming my new favourite background to work on ... it's made from the reader's digest pages where I clean off my brayer while using my gelli plate. I love that cleaning my brayer gives me huge stacks of colourful text pages to play with - there truly is no waste ... just lovely texty coloury bits to play with. For this background I cut the text pages into 1.75" squares, glued them down in a pleasing sort of spectrumy order, and then gessoed the borders, dry-brushing towards the middle of each square as I went. The trouble with this background is that I kinda fall in love with each step as I go (well okay, maybe not step one ...). A friend of mine at seeing step three called this background "Paper Pillows" and it's as good a name as any I can think of myself, so here are the steps to Paper Pillows in case you want to give it a go yourself:
The frames are a rubber stamp, and the last step (for my postcards) was to stamp text in the frames. I've also been using this same background in my art journal and then doing non-grid drawings/paintings on top of it, but I'll save those images for a future post because I still want to tweak them and add more detail.

Hope you're all having a colourful day ...

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Always make two ...

In the last few weeks I've had a few conversations (with other artists) about how we work or (more accurately) what works for each of us. One of the turning points in my creative process was the concept of "always make two". I wish I could say I'd come to this process through logic, but it actually started as a cost-saving measure.

At the time (several years ago) I was involved in a lot of collaborative and round robin altered book projects. I felt I needed to remember what I'd done in each book, and also (rather feebly) I *really* don't like letting my art go. It's not that I'm not generous (I like to think I am) but I grow quite attached to the finished object, and merely holding it takes me back through all the positive emotions I had while creating it. I don't think liking to hang onto my stuff makes me crazy. I'm just saying.

In the beginning I would photocopy what I'd done in other people's altered books before I sent them on their way. Given the volume of stuff I was doing at the time, this was getting to be quite expensive, not to mention that I'd have to drag the books to wherever to have them copied, fiddle with getting copiers to handle thick books with pages that were never ever exactly 8.5x11. One day it occurred to me that  I could easily make two pages in two books at the same time while I had all the materials spread out on the work table.

And it *really* paid off when I created pages with interactive bits to them (cards in pockets, flaps to lift, etc).

The more I did it, the more creating two of everything at the same time paid off. Eventually I figured out why this was so satisfying and beneficial for me ...

Firstly (as mentioned above) it cures the separation anxiety I feel when my art is sent off to someone else.

Secondly, it allows me to experiment more freely in the middle of a project without worrying that I'll have to go back to step one if it all suddenly goes pear-shaped (i.e.: what the heck was I thinking?!). Since I work in a printshop, I'm quite accustomed to making things in multiples and will often make three or four of something even if only one is required ~ just so I'll have a backup, and be able to mess about with a few different directions in the middle of creating. It's probably important to mention here that I tend to work small and with modest materials, so the cost of doing four of something is not going to break the bank.

Thirdly, keeping one of everything I make is like having a bank of prototypes for future projects. I can easily refer back to a previous object to see how I attached this to that, or how that paint looked on that surface, etc. It's like my own handmade reference manual of how I've been successful (and also when things have failed ~ which is almost as useful sometimes!).

Lastly (and not insignificantly) it's been a great help in those times when I feel like I haven't got a creative bone in my body ... faced with a project deadline or an unfamiliar material, a glance at my shelves says in the most positive way possible: "you've done it before, you can do it again."

So that's how it happened ... the two of everything habit, and I really *DO* make two of everything ... I leave you with the following ... two versions of a postcard I made for Ed Varney's Mayworks Postcard Exhibit. As you can see each card has slight variations, and when it came time to send one away, I didn't know which to keep ... I liked the shape on the head on one card better, but the shape of the hands on the other. In the end I closed my eyes, shuffled them for a minute and chose at random. Do I love the one I kept? Of course I do.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Mysterious mail ...

Top (right and left) Envelope and letter from France. Bottom (right and left) my collage card written in return.
As a person who is sometimes in the habit of exchanging mail art with person or persons unknown, it shouldn't really come as a surprise to have something unexpected and beautiful slide through the mail slot in my otherwise mundane front door. Last week I received an elegant white envelope from a mysterious stranger in France. From the arresting image on the front of the envelope to the single sheet of dreamily poetic prose inside, it was truly an enigma wrapped in a riddle.

My long-distant high school French classes came back to me in bits and pieces, but well enough for me to extract the letter's meaning ... once I'd sussed the quirks and delicacies of the writer's beautiful hand. That small pleasures can be a warm hand that reaches out to you ... or a solitary walk in the forest waiting to be reunited with the one you love, or best of all ... to receive a few handwritten words from you in return ...

Seriously swoon-inducing stuff if I were so inclined ... but, alas, so practical am I that all I could think about was the sheer pleasure this little letter had given me and the least I could do was to write those few handwritten words in return ... so I did. And while the half hour or so that I struggled (surely not struggled!) with working out the letter's meaning gave me such exquisite pleasure, it seemed a poor exchange to write my card in something so prosaic as English! No doubt there are poets who, writing in English, can induce a swoon or two (and if pressed I could produce a list of them), but I think there's little chance I'm one of them ... so I decided to reply in French ... knowing full well that M. Jean-Pierre (for whom French is a doddle) will no doubt find my French appalling, and perhaps (hopefully?) amusing and endearing ... oh well, no matter, it's the thought in the gift that counts, they say ...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Missing Artfest ...

As spring gets closer a part of my creative self is remembering this is the time of year (in past years) I'd  be getting ready for Artfest, which was hosted by Teesha and Tracy Moore and a crowd of volunteers. I'd be reading supply lists and gathering materials and thinking about how wonderful it is to gather with hundreds of like-minded artists for 5 intense days of learning and sharing. But (alas) Artfest is no more, so for this part of the process memories will have to do.

Oddly, what I miss most of all is making the trades. Given the population of Artfest (500+ artists), I took real pleasure in making small arty items to share with as many people as possible, and would often make something like 150 of whatever I'd decided to make, usually small books (quelle surprise!). I mean, how often in one's life (unless you're in manufacturing), do you get to sit down and make 150 of anything, particularly a small token of your creative self. Even now I find my fingers twitching to buy some little twiddle I've found in bulk with the idea that it would make an excellent start for trades at Artfest.

Fortunately for me, Artfest has brought some deep and wonderful friendships with other artists and I continue to meet (and retreat!) with them on a regular basis. It also introduced me to some fabulous teachers who I otherwise would only have known through their blogs. Like Roxanne Padgett for instance. It was in her class that I overcame almost all my colour fears. In fact, just looking at her artwork before I went to Artfest led me to Be Brave with Colour while making my Artfest Journal to take with me (as you can see by the front cover above).

And it was in her class more colour fears fell by the wayside as I created the portrait above. It's so completely different from anything I'd done before that I still can't believe I made it myself. I enjoyed her class immensely ~ from the warm up exercises that loosened us up, to the actual techniques of creation (this portrait was developed front to back on a sheet of plexiglass), to seeing the amazing variety of the work by all the other students. I've been eagerly awaiting her book "Acrylic Techniques in Mixed Media: Layer, Scribble, Stencil, Stamp coming out soon, and I'm *so* looking forward to it, although it won't be the same as having her right there encouraging me to *explore*, but it'll have to do.

My experience in her class, and in other Artfest classes have continued to feed and nurture my creative courage even today. So colour me bittersweet - missing Artfest, but loving where it got me.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Gelli Plate Surprise ...

Yesterday I decided to have a little fun with my newly-acquired 8x10 Gelli Printing Plate. This may come as a surprise to some of my creative friends, but I'm a bit of a doofus around new tools. I've watched other people magically creating amazing stuff with ease, then I've rushed out enthusiastically to buy whatever miracle toy they were playing with ... only to find the stuff I create is ... a hopeless muddle.

I'm very happy to report that my experience with the Gelli Plate is *not* one of those times. As near as I can tell it may well be idiot proof (Exhibit A: the collage above). With a minimum of tools, a variety of acrylic paints (some new and luscious, some old and cranky), some leftover divider tab sheets and about an hour, I created a generous stack of deliberate experiments and gorgeous happy accidents.

So ... what did I love? Each print doesn't need much paint, so it's very economical. Think that "clean up" is a drag? Don't clean up till the end! Yes, you can change colours as you go. See that collage above? I only cleaned up at putting away time. Don't like the first print you pull? That's okay, set it aside and print over it a second, third or fourth time till it can't take it anymore and decides to be gorgeous for you. Think you hate the final result? Not so fast. See that mottled green on the bottom row? I really hated it when I pulled it, but looking closely at it later I decided it was very nice indeed. And did I mention the no clean up till the end thing? Oh yeah ...

So ... paints ... I used whatever I had on hand. Mostly random acrylics, although my friend Rose recently gave me some super sparkly Dick Blick Glitter Watercolours, and while their pigment wasn't strong, the sparkle is very cool (and that's from a person who usually shuns glitter). The more liquid your paint the more prints you'll get from each inking and the easier it is to spread it around, but even my less liquid paints were fine, just took a bit more time to brayer them on evenly. Whatever the paint is, the first pull is usually fine, and if the paint seems too dry for a second pull, just lightly mist the plate. The green dots on the middle square in the collage were from a misted pull, and I love how they turned out.

Tools I used: stencils, foam stamps, a little graining tool, the core from a roll of skotch tape, a rubber brayer and a spritzy water bottle. I also taped a length of freezer paper to my table before I started - the Gelli Plate contains mineral oil, so it needs to be on something so you don't mark your table. Some people use a piece of glass or a teflon sheet. This also helps you if you want to rotate the plate while you're using it.

My other essential item (gleaned from watching various gelli vids on the net) is something to roll your brayer on after you've inked the plate. My choice of was an outdated copy of Leonard Maltin's movie guide. Let's face it, there's nothing more out of a date than a 20-year-old book of movie reviews. I suppose I could have torn out the pages and rolled on them, but I decided to just roll and turn the page. I figure I can throw it in my bag and take it to collage parties.

The table (post clean up). Poor Leonard! His reviews were never this colourful.

Well ... that's about it ... I just signed up for Carolyn Dube's Colorful Gelli Printing Workshop. I've been watching all the wonderful videos on her blog and I love her enthusiasm. In her last post she gelli'd her freakin' shoes (!). I'm looking forward to learning a ton more fun stuff to do with my Gelli Plate. I mean, if this is what I can create in an hour with *no real* knowledge, just imagine how far from a hopeless muddle I'll be with a little more practice.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Looking back at our shadow selves ...

Today's post is a page from the Time Traveler book I contributed to the Sketchbook Project back in 2012. I was thinking the other day about how long an idea can stay with you before it finally surfaces in the form of art and/or writing.

The first time I thought about shadow selves was about 30 years ago ... my 22-year-old self was having lunch with a group of friends in a hotel restaurant in the town I grew up in, but where I hadn't lived since I was 12. We'd driven 125 miles, from the town we all currently lived in, to consider renting a house together in this new location, and I hadn't told anyone that I'd once lived here.

Through the restaurant window I could see the elementary school my 8-year-old self had attended. Since it was lunch time, the school field was alive with active, noisy children playing games that probably hadn't changed much since I'd been out on that field myself. It was like looking back in time, and what came to mind was a particular sports day when (not being athletic) my 8-year-old self volunteered to help the teachers organizing and handing out ribbons and water and bandaids. I remembered the day very well, and at lunch time on that day, I'd been sitting at a table putting ribbons in order, facing the very restaurant my 22-year-old self would someday be sitting in.

And if that wasn't odd enough, my 12-year-old self had taken music lessons in one of the hotel meeting rooms, so now there were three of my shadow selves, all within easy reach of each other. Even at 22, my awareness of this overlapping of shadow selves made an impression on me.

The second time I thought about shadow selves was while traveling in New Brunswick in my mid-30's. I'd made a trip back east to meet my parents' families, and at one point was traveling by bus from one small town to another. I was dropped off at the pickup point (a gas station) to wait for a bus that might be along in anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. It was a pleasant sunny day, and the gas station had provided a comfy, sheltered bench outside for waiting passengers. I did what I always do in times like these ~ I took out my journal. I started writing about the people and places I'd seen so far, and a half hour later the bus came and I got on board. If there's one thing I learned 'back east', it's that hurry is not in the vocabulary. The bus was not in a hurry to get on the road ~ we were there for at least another half hour. In that time, other people arrived and boarded, and I continued writing. From my seat in the bus I could see the bench I'd been waiting on, and I saw myself there, on the bench writing, and I was now, on the bus writing. I was thinking how unlikely it was that I was there at all (so far from home in BC) about how insubstantial all these past selves are, and since I was writing, I wrote about it, mentioning not only that current experience, but looking back on my 22-year-old awareness of it as well.

Fast forward another 20 years, and in my journal I'm making page after page of notes for the Time Traveler project, realizing we all travel in time, we just do it one day at a time. And in every second we leave ghost imprints of ourselves wherever we go. I was thinking about this: where are we most solid and what does this tell us about ourselves? What can we learn from where my shadow selves have been? Can we go back there and relive our experiences in other times? Of course we can ...

Thursday, February 14, 2013

True dat ...

Just back from another creative weekend with some of my favourite people on the planet ~ my art journalling group. We've been meeting a couple of times a year for about 4 years now, and when we began I struggled with the art journal form. Sure I love books, love making them, love writing in them, and can't help arting up the pages, but it seemed to me that everyone else's journals were so much more art journally than mine. I longed to be able to see the colour, pattern and texture of the images I was using without feeling bound to use the image for what it was, a boat as a boat, for instance, instead of upside down and turned into a person's leg. On this trip I edged closer to having that experience, but obviously not on the journal page above.

"Time is the thing you can't get back" has been running through my head for weeks now, and it came together on this page with some nice 1950/60's-ish images from a magazine and a school textbook. This page is from La Musee d'une Vie Inventee (Museum of an Invented Life), a journal I made at another of our retreats, as I posted here. It sat empty for quite a long time until I figured out how to tell the story of an invented life.

It isn't my life exactly, but since my life is the only one I know intimately, then it's probably closer to mine than anybody else I know. Each page reveals something about an unspecified woman ... where she lives, how she sees things, bits and pieces of her memory and the experiences that made her who she is. Like me, but not exactly me, which turns out to be a comfortable balance point somewhere between fact and fiction. At a Q&A after a book interview I heard Margaret Atwood say proclaiming your book to be 'non-fiction' brings out the obsessive fact-checkers. She said every true story contains some fiction, and every made-up story contains some fact, and it's more interesting to have people think you've cleverly hid some truth of yourself in your fiction than having them distracted from the story by the search for false facts.

Time is indeed the thing you can't get back, not only that we can't get back to childhood, but also that wasted time is wasted time, and can't be bought or bargained back at any price, so it's important to use the time we have wisely. True dat fo real.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

From deepest darkest space, it's ...

Somebody had *way* too much fun designing this SF pulp fiction cover creator over at Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual. There are so many eye-popping image and text options that you could spend all day tweaking and and grooving on the grungy goodness, but it's so easy-peasy that it took me a whole two minutes to create this fabulous retro-fun image to celebrate my return to blogging. SF geekiness meets design smarts in the blazingly fast world of the internets. Big props to my brother for pointing me to this addictive little tool ~ it's way cool.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Celestial Navigation ...

This evening I'm finishing up another art project ... this time an international postcard swap I read about at Artists in Blogland. It seemed like a nice quick little swap, and a good exercise between some larger projects I'm working on.

As well as the three people in the swap I'm sending to, I've also done as the instructions suggestions, I've sent one off to FEATURING Magazine for possible inclusion in an article on mail art, so who knows .. maybe it'll surface again.

For those who know my work, the celestial theme will be familiar, as will the colour scheme. I'm tempted to tell you way too much about all the bits and pieces that went into its creation, but I'll keep this post short and  not get carried away ... let's just say mixed media and leave it at that, shall we?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

A rose by any other name ...

Today I finished another project I've been working on, helping a friend who is creating some theatrical costumes. She's divided the project up into bits and solicited help from a large group of friends and colleagues, so I've only a rough idea how the bit I've done will fit into the final costumes. My mission was to needle-felt a pair of twining roses onto a linen panel which (theoretically) will become part of an apron over a long folk-art style skirt.

This is the first time I've actually tried to accomplish something with needle-felting and it turned out to be easier than I thought. I think needle felting is one of those activities where you learn the basics in minutes: Step 1: stab felting needle into wool rovings. Step 2: don't stab yourself*. Step 3 to infinity: repeat steps 1 and 2 till the wool is felted into a shape you like. Learning how to manipulate the rovings and where and what angle to do your stabbing is where the mastery comes in. (* Really - don't stab yourself! Those felting needles are *wickedly* sharp. I have proof, but didn't think that would be a picture worth sharing).

For this project I was pleasantly surprised to find that wool yarn can be basted onto a linen background with only a few minimal stabs, essentially drawing on the fabric with yarn. I mixed the yarn colours together for some variety. Once the lines were drawn, a little persistent stabbing has them felted down in practically no time at all. Well, okay, a little time, but not nearly as long as you'd think.

I made a happy discovery while attaching the felted leaves. I was stabbing along the leaf center line and - hey presto! - the edges folded up in a very leaflike way, which gave me a clue about how to make roses. My instincts told me to "build" a rose from the outside to the center using separate circular petals to get a more realistic look, and it worked out well I think. I had an "uh-oh what next" moment as I neared the center, then realized that by pinching one quarter of the innermost and smallest felted circle I could create a bud with the rest of the circle forming a petal around it.

There are 2 roses on the apron front, both about 6 inches across (remember: they need to be seen clearly as roses by the audience). But even at such a large size they're not very heavy since wool rovings are quite light and airy, even after felting. I also had a hand in one of the other costumes so I'm looking forward to how all the costumes come together and seeing the finished production.  

I had no idea how easy it was to "draw" with wool on fabric ... now that I know how *not* to stab myself, I've got all sorts of wooly sketchiness ideas going through my mind. Cool. Or is that ... warm?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Sketchbook Project time again ...

So here's what I've created as this year's contribution to the digital library at the Sketchbook Project. Even though I've had my blank journal since the 2012 tour came to Vancouver, it took me *forever* to decide what to do. I suppose there are worse predicaments than having *too* many ideas ...

It came down to two ideas. The first was an abecedarian of sorts, an A to Z where the pages of the journal had been cut and folded to form the letters. I actually got a pretty good start on this one ... until I realized that I needed to tweak the binding in order to keep the pages together so they could survive shipping and multiple people reading it. I haven't abandoned this idea, but I need to (ugh) do more math.

The second idea was to take a very very very short story I'd written in my journal that I thought might be interesting to illustrate using torn paper collages. And in one those weird accidental forethought situations, it turns out that I went through an unexplained photography phase last summer taking pictures of pebbles, stones, rock walls, sand, water and other natural surfaces. So it was a mere matter of printing out my photos, making a bunch of photocopies and tearing them up. Oh yeah ... like illustrating a book is a mere matter of anything!

The only problem is I'm pretty bad at drawing people ... and there is actually a person in the story, and eventually she has to appear in some form or other ... and no amount of torn rocks and water will pass for a person. I thought I might get away with only showing a hand or an arm, so I did a few drawings. They were ... passable ... but instead of helping the story I felt they were more of a distraction and a let-down.

So there I sat .. staring at my own hand in the position I wanted to draw it and wishing I could transfer it just as it was onto the page. Then I remembered I'd recently I read about a young artist, Sara Lando in Italy, who was crowd-sourcing the funding to have her Magpies book published. Her book was made by photographing herself (and other people, objects, etc), then printing out the photos, cutting everything out and placing them in 3D paper diaramas. She'd then re-photograph them and use the photographs as panels in a graphic novel. What I needed to do was simple ... photograph my hand, print out the photo and glue it into the book. Et voila ... !

The gist of the story is that a woman goes every day to the edge of the river and places a stone till she can build a bridge to the other side. Even as I wrote the story years ago it seemed to me that this was an allegory of sorts, that the bridge was more than a literal bridge ... it was a bridge between more than two physical places ... so I decided to represent the stones as torn text rather than just as ordinary stones.

A few other tidbits ... the sleeve in the photo above is actually the wrong side of some black quilted satin I received in a fabric swap about 15 years ago. Another one of those beautiful little things I've hung onto thinking it might come in handy one day ... and again ~ voila! As usual I've made two copies of this journal ... one for myself and another to be permanently added to the digital library at the Sketchbook Project.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Back in the saddle ...

You may (or may not) have noticed I haven't blogged in awhile. Not sure why ... just got busy with life ... and it was sort of a "last thing in, first thing out" kinda deal and blogging was the thing that got neglected. I didn't stop making art or anything ... I just didn't blog about it. But recently I've been feeling the itch to share what I've been up to, so thought I'd start today while it's snowing outside (what? how did *that* happen?).

So I won't talk much and I'll just get on with sharing artwork I've made in the last 6 months. Yep ... it really  was six months ... in the words of Pink Floyd .. is there anybody out there?

Today's collage was something from a little retreat I attended last October. We had a short amount of time, limited materials, and a specific writing exercise which preceded making the collage. Which obviously worked for me since this little gem emerged very intuitively. It's way simpler than my usual collages - funny how putting a limit on time and materials can force you to be creative in new and rewarding ways. This one was made with only 3 items: a sheet of 70's stationery (aqua ovals), a page from a magazine (girl + title) and a postcard of Italian doorknockers. I used the symmetry of the photograph as my cue for the composition, and also balanced the ovals in the stationery on the top with the ovalness of the doorknockers on the bottom. But I think my favourite bit is the single golden doorknocker which forms a halo over her head.

I enjoy writing exercises but lack the self-discipline to make myself do them on my own, which is why I love  art retreats, collaborating with others, taking art classes and joining time-limited projects where I expect myself to produce something worth sharing at the end. Whether it's a brief time of contemplation, writing and collage (as this one was) or multiple months with the Sketchbook Project, give me an external deadline, a direction to head into and I *will* create something I wouldn't have created on my own, and probably surprise myself with some kind of useful insight to boot.