I had a special experience a few weeks ago, thanks to Lacey Hunter over at Loving the Lack. She generously lent me her class, and they kindly put up with my inexperienced teaching methods.
I had never really taught before, so I was super nervous. This was a home for teenaged girls, but they were very kind and welcoming, an unlikely little family. (Thankfully) not at all like I was at their age. We altered wooden boxes using phototransfer, painting, and collage. I’ve found these to be my favourite “stop worrying about the outcome and just have fun” techniques.
Just look how awesome they are! I was expecting to be anxious the whole time, but it turns out it is another feeling entirely. You help people make something, and have fun, and make a mess. You get this sort of glow in your belly, so much different than when you make something yourself. You know their work is good, you don’t have to struggle to view it objectively.
So then I asked the universe to please give me some more opportunities to teach, and it has delivered! Last week I heard from Dana O’Regan about being his assistant teacher for another set of ArtReach workshops, this time on making art instruments with kids.
Then I was contacted by my new friend Cheryl Lavigne, who teaches grade four french immersion. Her group was selected for the Fredericton Art Alliance/NB Gov’t program to bring artists into classrooms. We’ll be working together with a film and digital media artist to help the students respond to lessons about french language history.
I’ve been struggling with where to place my focus this year since I am realizing I can’t do everything all at once. As my teacher would say, better to stretch it out on the timeline horizontally than to stack it up and do everything poorly.
Decisions are hard, and although we like to believe otherwise, there is often no correct answer. In my art practice, when I reach a crossroads in a project, I look for a push in one direction or the other. Resistance somewhere, or an omen if you like. Although I don’t believe they are actually pointing out the right direction, I use these “signs” as an easy way to make the decision. After all, what really matters is that I start moving.
This collection of unexpected teaching opportunities, I’m going to accept that as a sign to put effort in that direction. My first experience and their beautiful, unique creations brought me a well of joy.
It can be hard to learn art because it is all about making something different, and this is counter to our urge to fit in. I hope to help people get comfortable taking creative risks and identifying their own core inspirations.
Moving back in time now to my last exhibition, “Foundation” at the Saint John Arts Centre. It was so exciting to share space again with the interns I spent so much time with at Sculpture Saint John. They had a lot of excellent work. One lovely artist, Alison Gayton, brought sculptures she created on a learning vacation Italy. You can check out the amazing story over at I Love Saint John Pottery.
As promised, I’d like to take you through the story of my work in the show. I am intrigued by lifecycles. I think it’s incredible the commonalities between different organisms when you really get looking close. These works explore the insect lifecycle, as it relates to us. You can read more about the concept in this post.
The first piece is Nascent, inspired by insect eggs. The idea came to me staring up at a tree in Odell Park one night. In the dark each leaf cluster looked like a cluster of eggs.
It started with a tree, and then went horribly awry.
As you can see, the bowl shattered under the weight. But it was a good thing after all because then I found this bowl:
But then, of course, my tree died. I was sad, I get attached. That is okay too though, as I still had a canopy of my own to add:
My teacher commented that the geometric shapes give it a logical, human element, and I like that. Without the leaves the form became simplified, and the more I look at it, the more I am happy about that too.
This Friday will mark the opening of my first solo show, CONSUME, at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre in Fredericton. It is a portrait series discussing the power of addiction to usurp identity. This subject is very personal to me, and I suspect to everyone.
This project, though serious in nature, was a fun experiment in material usage, and I learned a ton. The repetition of motion was quite meditative and gave me a chance to reflect on the premise. Here are some examples of the many materials used, to give you a tiny taste of what you might see at the show!
Interest piqued? Stop in 5:30 – 7:00 on Friday to see the work, enjoy drinks and snacks and conversation. For more info see the Facebook event, or the article in the Here magazine tomorrow!
Thank you to everyone who participated in this show; those who supported this work and its exhibition; those who have expressed their interest and perspectives on addiction; and those who bravely agreed to lend their face.
The beginning of November marked the opening of “Foundation”, a show I am taking part in at the Saint John Arts Centre. Our special group comes together as a result of shared experience, the Sculpture Saint John symposium of 2012. We spent six weeks with six international artists, constructing six granite sculptures. We lived together and worked together and learned to communicate together. It was the most immersive experience I’ve come across.
That summer set me off on a mission to unite my chosen medium of textile, with my new-found love of stone, with my ever-growing passion for plants. From a personal standpoint, these three mediums activate different sides of my self. Textile for flexibility and colour, stone for strength and endurance, plants for energy and nurturing. I think of them as my prescription for well-roundedness.
From a conceptual standpoint, they make even more sense. Stone. The unyielding machinery which drives our planet. Plants. Lush and pulsing, they hold the very present moment. Textile. Almost impossible malleable, cloth is what makes us human. By combining these three primal disciplines I will evoke the kinship between man and biosphere.
I have begun through exploration, testing different ways of uniting these three. See below the initial designs, collectively entitled “Time Flies”. The final piece, “Necros”, is still in progress. In the coming days I will take you through the huge learning process of creating the first four. You can see the finished works at the historic Saint John Arts Centre until January 10th.
I am smack dab in the middle of a few different projects right now so I’ve decided to look backwards for this week. Last semester I had an excellent teacher/class combo: Myth, Magic, and the Human Form with Denise Richard. This course was set up to encourage independant historical research on a project-specific basis.
There were four projects: a mask, a talisman, an apron, and an effigy. For the latter the expectation was to create a self-portrait effigy with some nod to an existing doll-type. I have always been enamoured of Russian nesting dolls. After much research (especially this lovely article) I set out on that path.
I tried using gum paper, but it became apparent that it didn’t work well with my fingers, small objects, or time constraints. I moved on to a technique this same teacher had shown me a couple years ago for making this custom dress form: You wrap yourself in plastic wrap and have someone lay down several rolls of packing tape over your body. It is a very dizzying project for at least one of you, but at the end you are cut free and what’s left is a you-shaped plastic torso.To use this method on my nesting dolls, I first made a tiny newsprint form, only a couple inches long. I squished it around until it look like a stomach, an organ which has a lot of meaning for me. Then I wrapped it in red cotton (which took the place of the plastic wrap), and strapped on the packing tape. This gave me my smallest doll shell. I put more newsprint over the top of that, then cotton, and so forth for a total of five more layers.It was a dense and satisfying little package by the time I was done.
I chopped up the back with scissors and pulled off the shells one at a time. After taping the back split up again (and filling the smallest one with stones) I was left with five functional and durable red nesting dolls.But the red was just for the guts and I wanted to be able to paint the surface. I covered each piece in cotton muslin, découpage-style. Around this time I started getting really nervous about painting them. Something I really liked about the quality of the surface, they were fun to squeeze and manhandle. I didn’t want to ruin it. I pressed forward and painted the surface with gouache very slowly, just putting lines where they fell. Meaning came out of them as I suspected it might. While they do have a curious monster quality, to me they are mourning dolls, and each represents a different facet of mourning as I’ve experienced it.I won’t get into any sensitive elaborations, you can read into each one as you will. I suspect in the future I will make more lighthearted versions of these guys. As it stands I do not anymore find these upsetting as I had expected. I got all that out in the making and now they seem to symbolize release. They are called The Procession, both for the funeral rite, and for the act of moving onward.
I got to work early last week on my painted quilt piece for the Isaac’s Way art auction. It was great fun, lots of little steps, just how I like it. The outcome is complex but the steps are actually very easy, anyone could do it. It is basically an exercise in tracing. But for the sake of respect, if you try this out, please make sure you took the photograph yourself.
This post will take you through part one, painting, and tomorrow’s post will show you how to do part two, quilting.
For this part you will need:
a digital photograph
a laser printer and/or photocopier
a couple of transparent blender pens
a big board or piece of foamcore
a piece of cloth (preferably non-stretchy)
your favourite paintbrushes
old plates and water cups
plenty of time and scrap fabric
The first step is to print off your image on regular paper to the size of your finished piece plus a couple inches on each side for wraparound. Keep in mind that those couple inches will mostly disappear so keep all the important stuff inside this zone.
Ideally you could just use Adobe Illustrator’s tile printing function with about a quarter-inch of overlap. This means your image will print off in 8.5 x 11 sections. You want to flip (mirror) your image before you print it off or else you will end up with a backwards finished product (like I did by accident, haha). You could also enlarge and flip on a photocopier. The printer at my school was being difficult so I ended up with no overlap and little spaces in between my sheets. But no biggie. You line them up perfectly and tape them together on the back with tiny little pieces of tape the size of a fingernail tip. I used black and white because photocopies tend to transfer better than laser prints. You could use laser colour prints I believe, just no inkjet.
Then you tape down a piece of cloth (any old cloth, washed natural fabric works nicely but I think it would be alright either way) to a big piece of board. You could even pre-dye the cloth. In retrospect it might have been easier to dye the linen the white of my background colour. I used chipboard which gave me a funny wood grain on my transfer, but I think you’d get clearer results on a flat base, like foamcore.
Next you place your image face down on the cloth. You want to tape it at the edges so it doesn’t wiggle. Then you get this magic tool called a transparent blender pen (I used Chartpak, and I think you can get it at most art supply stores). You colour on the back of the image, a little area at a time, maybe the size of your hand. Then you rub it with a spoon, being careful not to shift the page. You continue doing this until you have rubbed down the entire image. It’s probably a good idea to practice this step before you start, and you may need more than one pen. And it smells like magic marker, so ventilate your area.
Now you peel up the pages very gently. I found that it took so long to go over the entire piece that it had glued the pages to the cloth by the time I took it off. It might be better to peel up each page as you finish rubbing it, but only if you are doing something fairly large. Voila! Your image is now transferred onto your fabric.
Next I dug out my paints. I chose to use gouache, but I think any fast-drying paint would work. Please test it out on scrap so you can get an idea of how it looks, especially if you are planning on washing it. Things always run more smoothly when I mix my paints in advance. In this case I only needed a handful of colours. Some other time I will explain the logic behind paint mixing but I’m sure there are many many good guides to colour on the internet. The most important thing I have found is to always “muddy” your colours with their complement (put a little blue in your orange). That keeps them looking more natural and they won’t clash with one another.
Next step is painting. I scoop out a little paint onto a plate, and stir in a bit of this varnishy-looking stuff called textile medium. Probably about six parts paint to one part textile medium, although you should follow package instructions if you plan on laundering. I was going for a more washed out look. It looks so neat when you squirt it into the paint.
Then I used both flat and round brushes to cover the whole image in paint. It took a while to figure out how thick to lay it on. Not very, but enough to look opaque. Use lots of water. With gouache you won’t know what it looks like until it dries. I left the mint green railing areas quite translucent as I wanted the wood-grain transfer to show through.
I switched over to a foamcore backing, and used a ruler to get all the lines really straight. Sounds compulsive, but it ended up being easier and faster that way, especially when it came time to sew. Right in the middle the transfer was too shoddy to see so I had to line it up and transfer again. This helped more than I was expecting and I was able to eyeball it after that. Here is the completed painting. At this point you should press it for a couple minutes with a piece of parchment paper in between cloth and iron. You could also wash it but I chose not to for lack of time. It took a couple days but worth every second. And much easier than trying to piece a thousand bits of fabric. It looked really nice with light shining through it. Gave me big ideas for painted curtains and lampshades.
Come on back tomorrow to see it all quilted up! That part is a little more fiddley but still pretty foolproof. I am glad I picked a photo with lots of straight lines, I would definitely recommend that to beginners. This was my first real quilt (non-paper) and I think there would have been a lot more hair pulling otherwise.
I just submitted a few pieces to an open call for artists who have lived with mental illness. Having had some experience in that area, I felt compelled to contribute. Never mind that I saw the call on Monday and were due Saturday. I pulled it together just in time.The project is called Mindscapes New Brunswick, and is a yearly exhibit. This year it will be in Bathurst, NB. A place I’ve never been but it sure looks pretty.
I originally had aspirations of making something specifically for it, but when I started going through my old work, I realized I had a number of suitable candidates. More than suitable, even, because they dealt directly with my mental health problems/solutions.
This submission was a surprisingly engaging process. I was combing through my artwork for pieces that spoke to my mental ecosystem. How often do we organize our work by concept? It was enlightening.
It has made me want to categorize ALL of my work by idea. In this world where specialization seems to be the way to make a living, I feel constant pressure to identify my “area of interest”. But there are so many, and it hurts me where my tears grow when I think of giving up some interests for the sake of only one.
However, it might be nice to see what patterns have developed on their own. What sort of direction I am heading with certain topics. That kind of thing. Constructive categorization. I believe the study of oneself is integral to mental health.
I have long been thinking about making a private blog to store ideas. I would use a blog mainly for the ease of cross-referencing through categories and tags. My problem with the oodles of notebooks and ideas I have spilling out around the house is that I never go back to look at them. But the odd time that I do, I realize how many different directions each one could be taken. My ideas need to be under multiple headings at once, and most of all they need a search function.
Can you imagine a collective of everyone’s ideas in the whole world? Where you could be matched with people with similar ideas and borrow ideas as you pleased? What an innovative world that would be.
But I digress.
As part of the submission I wrote an artist statement that explained my history of mental illness and what part art plays in my life. It was interesting to take stock of how far I’ve come. It made me feel proud and sure of myself.
I’m feeling hesitation about putting the statement in this post. It seems overly personal, unprofessional. Somehow I feel it might make potential viewers think twice. But that just betrays how brainwashed I have been by society’s insistence that mental illness be hushed. That is what this exhibit is all about, open discussion on a difficult topic. And to be honest, if my humble trials and subsequent victories are enough to scare you away, adieu.
So here it is, my past, followed by the pieces I’ve submitted.
“For as long as I could remember, I hadn’t been capable of true involvement in my own life. It didn’t feel real, and so apathy was ever-present. This culminated in a deep paralyzing depression during my teenage years.
When I sought help, the offers I received were of antidepressants, to fix what I had considered a symptom. My body did not jive well with these drugs and I ended up trying many different kinds. Eventually one did seem to help. Unfortunately after taking it for a long time, I felt trapped by the emotionless state it imbued.
I decided I wanted to stop. Even with slow weaning I suffered withdrawals, namely the debilitating “brain zaps”, which are exactly what they sound like. Every day I removed one more tiny bead from the capsule, and at long last severed myself from this demanding drug.
It was an awakening. Having been numbed for so long, I had one of the more mentally tumultuous periods of my life. I wrote, I thought, I created art in swarms. One morning while staring at my ceiling fan, I came to a life-changing realization. In order to feel real, you have to push yourself into the world. Before that moment I had only tried to let the outside in. It has to be a two-way valve.
I believe art to be the act of putting your insides out. I try to engage myself and my viewer as much as possible by reaching for more challenging projects. There are no failures when your goal is to learn, and when I do have particular success I feel great pride in my ability to connect to the world outside.
These days I am learning to be a textile designer and mixed media artist at the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design. I have shown work at my college and in various group shows and art auctions, and have recently completed several commissions. I was the winner of the 2010 NBCCD Scholarship for highest GPA, and this year won the Nel Oudeman’s Scholarship for a promising art student. I am feeling mentally sound and most permanently curious.”
Piece #1 :
9.5″ x 12.5″ x 1.5″ (including frame). Mixed media sculpture pressed between glass. Includes marbles, beads, plastic canvas, acrylic gel, tubing, paper, plastic wrap, and glue. 2011.
This piece was created to soften the memory of an incident that happened several years ago. I had stomach problems from anxiety and needed a gastroscope. I was given something so that I wouldn’t remember the procedure, but it didn’t entirely work. I was aware but could not move or remember what was being done to me. It was a disturbing memory but by creating this piece I have taken away some of its impact.
Bit by bit
12″ x 25″ (including frame). Collage of magazine clippings and glue stick. 2008.
This is what I would consider my first true artwork. Around the time I found a helpful antidepressant, I started my first art class in high school. This is a self-portrait I created, demonstrating my feeling of hope. The blue circle in my abdomen references a meditation technique I found quite useful for anxiety and insomnia.
If Your Friends
12″ x 13.5″ (including mat). Letterform collage of magazine clippings and glue stick. 2010.
This piece is a good-humoured take on the act of following suit. For our own well-being we must all go our own way.
16” x 16”. Expandable soft book made of digitally printed cotton, fibrefill, polyester, embroidery floss, and metal snaps. 2012.
I believe the point of life is curiosity, creativity, and the forming of connections. In this piece I pay homage to all three. Each segment shows a different area of science. Counter-clockwise from the top we have quantum physics, chemistry, crystallography, genetics, biology, botany, neuroscience, and astrology. I have digitally constructed the pieces from scanned images of my pen drawings and acrylic paintings, as well as pages from a vintage science encyclopedia.
(I will go into more detail about this piece in another post)
Well that’s that. Quite a rewarding trip down memory lane. Wish me luck!