Our Dog

I’ve been debating whether to talk about this publicly. It feels like a very private kind of sorrow. I guess at the end of the day, I just want to remember my dog, and so maybe I want you to notice for a minute too that he was alive and he was good, and he deserved to live.

He never barked and he was always, always trustworthy alone in the house. There was no intent to be bad, not ever. Sometimes I think I would have appreciated him more if he had been more of a handful and demanded more of me. But he wasn’t demanding, and I needed that, and I loved him.

When we first got Glitch, he was a robot. He had never had a home really and we gave him that but it took years for him to really warm up and start showing emotion, start showing enthusiasm, start feeling brave, and eventually, start showing real and carefree affection. Only in the last year would I say that we saw his most exuberant, loving self. I am so very glad we got to see it. But it feels tragic to lose him at a time when we had grown so close and he had grown so real. What treasured moments would next year have held for us?

His death came just days before I was changing my schedule to be with him for more of each day. His death came as a result of efforts to help him live a healthier life with less pain. It came from trying to solve a problem that I felt so much guilt about not having the resources to solve sooner. Turns out, I should never have tried to solve it at all. I should have spent less time feeling guilt about my inaction and more time enjoying my living, breathing, happy, and generally healthy dog.

It feels like a serious fuck you from the universe. If I’m honest it also feels like a lesson I should already have learned.

Waiting until the time is right is not the right answer. Even if I think that time is right around the corner. Just next week, puppy, we’ll be able to go for a nice walk together every single morning. When I have more time, I’ll be able to start making you that homemade food from the market. When I have that new office, I’ll be able to bring you in to meet my friends.

What I should have done, what I could have done, is taken an extra, thoughtful moment each day. Instead of checking Facebook or watching a show or worrying about work or sleeping in, I could have taken an extra 15 minutes and chased him around the house, taken him for a romp in the woods, pet him on his soft little head. I could have given him a series of special reminders that he was so very important to me.

I know with time I’ll remember that we cared for him deeply and well. I know he felt loved. I know we gave him a lot of attention but it turns out it was just not enough. I should have been focusing on the things I could do in this moment and not resting my gaze on the big things I would have to save up time or money to fix. At the end of the day, nothing really needed fixing.

I guess now I’m thinking of what else I have in my life that could be harshly taken away. That will, almost certainly, someday be taken away. What do I want to give that extra moment to, and what is eating it now?

I don’t know if this lesson will stick. I get so busy and lost in thought and worry. I’m just here trying to soak it in because this is not my first loss and I should know better by now.

Glitch was my dog, and I love him. I love the fur that clings to his old coat, smelling of warm dust. He deserved more of me, of us. He deserved not to fall down the priority list as our careers ramped up. He was a real and true companion and the fact that he wasn’t human makes absolutely no difference to this feeling of loss.

I was supposed to protect him, and in the end I failed to do that, even though I knew, right down in my guts, that this was about to happen. I don’t get the opportunity to beg his forgiveness. I do get the opportunity to care more about the people and creatures that are not yet reduced to shadows in my living room.

On non-human collaboration:

So I drew these hands:
Hands sketch

Then I put them into Photoshop, mucked around a bit, and they became this:
Hands digital

Still my drawing, but not the same, and the globular shapes are much more in keeping with the idea of the piece this will become. The funny thing is I never intended to make them look like that, I just set out to smooth my shakey-handed outlining.

It got me thinking how it was more like I was collaborating with the software, not just wielding it like a tool. I asked it to do something and it was like “Okay, but instead, how about this? Is this good?” and I’m like “Hell yeah it’s good, thanks bud.”

It’s like this with materials too, paint, paper, fabric, thread. The materials come equipped with all these parameters: I work this way, I don’t bend this way, I shatter easily, I twinkle, I look great in red, I feel good, I’m an allergen. Choosing and working with the materials is one part logic problem, and one part collaboration, because these parameters steer the project as much as I do.

Leaning into a project, I search out the right materials. I brainstorm. Once I choose, (mostly by gut-feel) I nearly always stick it out with that material. Even when it presents a serious problem and redirects the focus of the piece. It’s like, you dance with the partner you came in with.

Even budget and limitations are my ally. I say this to myself once a week: “necessity is the mother of invention.” I can’t tell you how many times my frugal solution (as opposed to the grandiose expensive version I first thought up) turned out to inspire a whole new line of ideas.

It’s all very clear in hindsight. So instead of concerning myself with problems and limits as they come up, I should really look at them as an opportunity to collaborate – between the images in my head, and the way things really are. Usually, “the way things really are” is a better friend than I imagined.

On drawing blind:

I have a hard time with the starting sometimes. Okay, all the times. Even if I already know what the first step should be. Even if I’ve already started it the day before – next day, same thing. Walk into my studio, and the fear bugs descend and try and keep me from moving. Ever been there? Yes of course you have.

But! We still get shit done, because there are tools to get past this! Starting rituals are great. Little steps you take daily so that starting is just another step, like putting on your running shoes the second you get out of bed (don’t worry, I’m not that disciplined.) My ritual just underwent a fall shift and I’ve added a really brilliant little exercise I recently stumbled into. In my head I call it double-blind contour drawing. blind contour etc_1

BLIND contour drawing has been one of my favourite exercises since forever. With that one, you draw the contours of your subject, without looking at your paper – not once! The trick is pretending your pencil is actually touching the thing in front of you as you move your eyes around it. This is great for loosening up and subjugating your doubt monster, since there’s no option to draw the object the “right”. It’s also a really beautiful way to observe and quiet.

double Blind contour blog post_4
(I suspect this was a leaf, since I don’t own any birds)

But what’s double-blind contour drawing? The next logical step, of course – close your eyes entirely! Every morning, and sometimes before every new task, I do double-blind contour therapy. I start by choosing the first task to work on for that day, item 1 on my intention list. Then, I locate paper and close my eyes. Instead of following the contours of an object out in the real world, I visualize the project I am starting, just that first little minute part of it, and I draw that. Sometimes I just draw myself making a phone call, or looking pensively at a piece of wood, or whatever the first order of business may be.
double Blind contour blog post_3So, duh, it just ends up being a bunch of squiggledy lines. But, by the time I open my eyes, something miraculous has happened. I have a clearer view of what I’m about to start. I know a little more about where it’s headed. I have already taken the first step, completely risk free. And you know what? The fear is gone, because I tricked some little part of me into believing that this thing I have to do is safe and known – because I’ve already drawn it and absolutely nobody died.
double Blind contour blog post_2

So I offer to you, next time you’re in doubt, put your pencil on your page, close your eyes and imagine what you need to do. Picture the completed task or yourself in the middle of it. Draw that. Be as loose or as detailed as you wish. After a couple minutes open your eyes and laugh at your drawing, then leap into action.

Like me, you will probably end up with a handsome little pile of nonsense drawings, but you might also end up with enough peace to start your day.double Blind contour blog post_1

On connecting the dots

It is always so helpful to get a good shove in the right direction. I am grateful to have received one in the form of a Creation Grant from ArtsNB. Though I am always a little shy with projects at this stage (before I can point to an object and say “Look there! That is what I mean!”), I would nonetheless like to share my proposal with you. It will give you an idea of where I am coming from as this project unfolds, beginning in October. I hope you will be as excited as I am to get started!

Black-eyed Susan

Connectome

Standing at any point in a room, we receive light from all around. It converges in our minds and informs us of the world outside. But we are also reflecting light. At a point two feet away, our image is found there with all the others. This fact speaks of connection. We perceive ourselves as contained systems, but in real, physical ways, we are blended with the outside world.

To date, my work has focused largely on pairing technology (us) with nature (outside) to make the connections apparent. I am finding this approach too subtle. This new body of work will show the connective tissue, the ripples of light, between the subjects. To understand the imagery I will be working with, envision the following:

“Thus every body placed in the light spreads out in circles and fills the surrounding space with infinite likenesses of itself and appears all in all in every part.”  – Leonardo da Vinci

I will construct the rippled compositions by digitally blending and repeating photographs. From these designs will grow nine low-relief works, twelve square feet and up, with some taller than a person. They will be exhibited as a labyrinth of freestanding panels whose adjoining imagery brings to mind a single continuous work. Four months of consistent practice will see them finished and provide a jumping off point to complex sculpture in the same vein.

This project will explore a variety of textile-infused techniques. I have been evolving a silk quilt process which makes use of hand-painted and digitally printed cloth. The ripple concept also lends itself to scaled-up tapestry, woven using large tubes of printed photograph. Several of these works will have a person-shaped hole or reflective surface in the center, immersing the viewer in the rippled connectome. Every aspect of this project is built to amplify the sense of connection to the world outside.

Garden Person

On getting my work to ask the hard questions:

The other week at an opening there were a number of you who said “I can feel the conflict between industry and nature in your work.” This, in its way, made me sad, for in making the work I felt a harmonious combining of the two.

But the artist makes only one half of the work. The rest is all you, and I am so privileged to learn your side. It lets me know who you are, the other, and how I can talk to you. To state your thoughts lets my work know you and dialogue back.

Leaf Filled

I noticed – hey – I know now what that person feels about industry/nature. My work asked them that question and I didn’t even know it. I thought I was trying to tell them something. But my work had other plans. It was curious.

Meditation cushion print

A thing that comes up in my reading/listening a lot: the idea of making art based on questions, not answers. Answers and truths are illusory. This is a controversial stance. I’m not placing it as an argument but rather a hypothesis. In my experience, personal truths (are there other kinds?) are transitory.

Seasonal trees block

Out in the people world, I find it difficult sometimes to talk to people about — people things. I’m not very good at it. I mean about families, spouses, heartbreaks, haircuts, injuries. These are relevant and important, but I am private in ways and just not very good at sharing back.

On the other hand, I am crazy to learn what projects/ideas/innovations/science/stories/techniques/places/spaces/perspectives/mind-tricks keep you awake at night. You know what? Sometimes its really hard to get people into those conversations. I learned a secret pass-phrase to get right in there, but some things are just tricky.

decal blocking x 2

So I’ll get my art to do it. Then go places with it. It’ll be my wingman.

Hey guy, my art says. Quick, what do I make you think of? Wear it all over your face.

On the white glow of the lightbulb:

Watercycle Sketches_0001

A sketch is such an immaculate conception. Before colour: form. A curving mass of lines. Possibility. Perfection.

The curse of being an idea-generating machine is that no creation will ever be as perfect as its conception

I know that once I take the mathematical entity off the page it starts to flaw, to differentiate. Even now, it is a pure white ruse. It is the idea of a thing.

White Lightbulb Blog Post_1

The debate – will you breathe life into that symbol and make it concrete? The source of all delay.

A sketch is like an object of the mind, perhaps impenetrable to others but immediately provocative to the artist. An artist looks at their own idea and sees the possibilities in flux. It is a great excitement.

White Lightbulb Blog Post

An object of the mind is non-communicative. In must be translated. It must be narrowed into a coherent statement and transmitted. It must be painted with actual colours and not all the colours at once.

Leaf toy_2

Because the white of the page contains the full spectrum of outcomes for that take. The terror is that none of the options are the full entity. You can never fully communicate what the mind sees in shapes. You can never fully say what you mean to say. You are compelled to try a different angle on another day. But by then you are changed.

White Lightbulb Blog Post_2

And that is fine. And I accept that.

It is better to say something than to live and die in the sheer white of possibility.

And anyway sometimes I am talking to myself.

On tipping the balance:

I learn a lot every day. About how to be here/happy/human. I’d like to share and also to string words out of my head so I can knit them into something like a crash pad. And so maybe you can help me tie up the holes.

watercycle and seasons of trees

Last year at life school we had visiting speakers. A couple of them, the lovely/articulate Yolande Clark and Danielle Hogan, were the first people to tell me how NOT balance work with life, but rather integrate it. This way you aren’t confining parts of your self and questing after elusive (impossible) perfect balance. But I haven’t figured it out yet, how to do it.

I was thinking about a blog and how I like to blog about process but it feels like I repeat a step by step rundown already apparent in photos. The parts I need to rehash for my growth are exactly the parts that come off as negative, for others. I’m thinking of ways I can use the blog constructively, to write about the inside things that are harder to say with only pictures.

Sun paintings_1

 

And maybe let us get to know each other. If you’d like that sort of thing.

I’m going to stop presenting my work as seen from some objective outside observer, and rather show how my mind affects my work, and my ability to do it. How the books that I read and the people I talk to are a catalyst for big internal earthquakes. And maybe you can relate. Please, do let me know how you relate.

watercycle block split

If we remove the person from the work, it sort of cuts out the footing. We don’t relate. Last fall at Canadian Crafts Federation symposium on Heirloom they talked about creating a story that will follow your work through its various relationships. To me that means being sure to attach your story to your work. Not just a piece about nature but a piece about nature which came from my experience of roaming through Fundy park and losing all my worries, all my monologue. And trying to find some way of re-organizing my mind to feel at home in the city, to recognize that even our cities are nature, we made them. They are our hive.

Me in Moncton (2)

I would guess to live a life of work/play merged is all of owning that perspective. The guilt I feel when life comes over work is a trick. There is no such thing as putting life over work. All of the work I have done has been continuous, inseparable, from life. What is work but a pass-time I chose? Maybe I like the physics definition best:

Workdisplacement of the point of application in the direction of the force.

pumpkin ring

In other words, steps taken in the direction of your intention. I would wish that on all my friends.

Biostrata Residency Week Two: Undersea Adventure

This past week at Biostrata: Cutaway Ecologies, Mr. Shark got his coat of many colours. One of the many wonderful things about working at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre is that they have day camps, so this week little dancers came out to visit and learn on their lunch breaks.

I started off by finishing up my form with cotton:
Biostrata Week Two - shark skin, octopus stone_3

The pieces are all ripped instead of cut so they have a frayed edge. That is one of my favourite attributes of this method, it gives it topology. This is really important when it comes time to paint. Blank canvas has never been my thing, better to have landmarks to work within.

spider, squirrel, shark_wm

When I dug out my paints (I’ve really missed painting with gouache) I discovered this dried up old tub had turned into these beautiful cell patterns. I think I will use it to model the painting on the inside.

Biostrata Week Two - shark skin, octopus stone_1

So the patterns were loosely drawn, and colours chosen. Mixing and matching colour chips (like you get for house paint) is a great way to figure it out. That way you know what you’re looking for before you start trying to mix, and you can check the combinations ahead of time.

Shark Painting WM

Funny thing I noticed, when I am paint mixing, and arrive at the colour I’m looking for, it takes on a sort of velvety look like melted chocolate. That’s how I know when to stop. I’m sure it’s just an illusion my brain uses to let me know. Same thing happens when I get the right amount of water in there.

This week there was plentiful rainwater to work with, which made it extra lovely. Working in a rain storm even made me feel a little like a shark.

Biostrata Week Two - shark skin, octopus stone

The octopus carving was also refined. Here it is wet by the rain to show you the colour it will be when polished. I learned from a visitor that he looks like an infant from this angle. I can certainly see that now, and it adds a different dimension to these nested sculptures.

Biostrata Week Two - shark skin, octopus stone_2
So I have a little left to do on this piece this coming week, which is okay because he will be the largest one.

Also exciting on Monday, I had my first live radio interview. It gives a good overview of the project and it’s motivations, I will leave you guys a link when it’s up as a podcast. Thank you to Mark Kilfoil @ CHSR 97.9!

Shark painting_1 copy

Looking forward to finishing the first sculpture up this week, and starting the silk painting workshops. Last chance to sign up, it’s going to be a really fun month of Thursdays!

Biostrata Residency Week One: Sharktopus

This was the first week of my Biostrata: Cutaway Ecologies artist residency. I am so thankful to be working outside in the Culture Garden at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre. Every summer I feel so justified in shirking my work, because, well it’s summertime, and the outside calls to me. This year it’s different because I get to exercise both of my passions, art and nature, all at the same time. I think I’m onto something here.
Shark Octopus Nesting Sculpture_2

This project is all about connection between organisms. I’ll be making three nesting sculptures, each showing a different biome. So, naturally, I started the week off by researching biomes, which are areas of similar climate which house similar animals and vegetation.

Shark Octopus Nesting Sculpture_3

Fun fact: an increase in altitude acts the same as distance from the equator, in terms of which biome you find yourself in.

Tuesday is not only research day, but also design day. I started by choosing the different animals that would be represented throughout the residency, and then made little polymer clay models to get an idea of form.

Fimo maquettes for biostrata sculptures Wm

When I say nesting sculptures, I mean that in the sense of nesting dolls. These will be sculptures within sculptures. The first ecosystem I’m working with is the marine biome, and the first piece represents an apex shark.

The innermost layer will be an aquatic terrarium like you have seen in some of my previous work. It contains a Marimo moss (actually a form of algae) and shows the base of the food chain.

Shark Octopus Nesting Sculpture

Around this is a stone sculpture which shows an octopus or squid type creature, something tentacley that would be delicious to a friendly neighbourhood shark. This acts as skeleton to the skin.

Shark Octopus Nesting Sculpture_1

The skin layer is flexible textile and plastic. When finished, it will be painted with the habitat of the shark: water and those neato underwater rock formations and hydrothermal vents.

He is made up entirely of other creatures and his environment. Without them he would have no substance, and could not go on holding the shape of a shark. We humans are not exempt from this rule either, we are all made of what we eat and live with.

Shark Cotton

This week you can stop by Tuesday-Saturday from 9-5 and see the skin painted, the stone refined and polished, and the whole thing put together. To find out how you can follow along and participate, visit here.