Thursday, October 30, 2014

Bare Bones

Here's the picture I like. The antler just happened to catch my eye, sitting there calmly on the mantel, as I was trying to document another piece before I took it in to the gallery.

And here's the super-crap image of the piece I made yesterday, in a mad rush to make the deadline for the Dia de los Muertos show at Artworks. I had been working on a completely different idea, but it wasn't happening, so at the last minute I reverted to one of my favourite techniques, the paper cut. The mirrored design is created by cutting a piece of folded paper* with an X-Acto knife, all in one piece. I mounted it on a piece of hand marbled cloth that I made quite a while ago, and then bordered it with rick rack (yay!) and some lovely matte black Japanese wool.

I kinda like its lurid quality, but I must stop doing stuff by the seat of my pants.

(*Technical note: I used heavy Canson Mi-Tientes paper - it was a PITA to cut)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Lichen Dyeing

Actual size of this piece of lichen is about 10 inches across.
Let me introduce you to Lobaria pulmonaria, the Queen of Lichens. This distinctive beauty can often be found on the ground at this time of year, blown down from her home high up in the maples. The bright lime green of the underside stands out amongst the rusts, oranges and golds of the fallen leaves.

Lobaria pulmonaria was traditionally used by the Coast Salish people as a dye for wool. I was first told about this excellent dyestuff by Katherine Tye, an amazing Fraser Valley woman who was involved in the revitalization of spinning, weaving and natural dyeing amongst the First Nations communities in that region, back in the early 1970's. I met Katherine as part of my research into dyeing with native plants that I was doing for a high school science project. (She now has an ecological reserve named after her.)

Lobaria pulmonaria does not require any mordants to give up a lovely, fast, orange-y tan colour on wool, cotton and silk, and I haven't experimented with mordants so it may be possible to shift the colour with iron, copper or tin if one was so inclined. I have always just boiled the whole leaves (fresh or dried) in a big pot for an hour or two, then added the cloth/yarn and simmered for another couple of hours and let it cool in the dyebath. I imagine more colour might be yielded up if the leaves were finely chopped but I haven't tried that yet. It also gives the dyed material a wonderful rich forest-y smell.

I am sure I don't have to remind you that lichens are an integral part of the forest ecosystem and grow very slowly, so do not gather any lichens that are attached and growing on tree bark or rock. Lobaria pulmonaria is relatively lush growing and falls very generously to the ground in wet, windy weather, so it can be easily gathered then.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Place and Show

I'm still looking for a digital image of some of my work from that time. I've got lots of slides...
In 1989, just after I finished art school (at the time it was the Ontario College of Art, now it is called OCAD University) a group of other recent graduates and myself decided to self-curate ourselves and present our work in non-traditional gallery spaces, since the Toronto art scene at the time was full to bursting at the seams with established artists, and there were few opportunities for emerging artists. We called ourselves "Place and Show", as that's what we did: find an interesting venue and put on a show. We exhibited in a residential hotel, a shelter for people that had been living on the street, a shopping mall, even an artist-run gallery in Ottawa! Little did we know at the time that we were at the vanguard of a movement that would continue into the next century. 
There were seven of us: me, Peter Cosco, Reid Diamond, Rebecca Diederichs, Peter Hobbs, Susan Kealey and Cathy Jones. Now there are just five - Reid and Susan have passed away. The rest of us have taken various paths but all still make art or are working in creative fields. Looking back, the experience of being part of Place and Show was the ideal transition from being in the supportive atmosphere of art school to finding our footing in the much more challenging "real world".
It is somewhat shocking to find that our group, and others, are now considered part of the history of the Toronto art scene. David Sylvestre and Richard Monguit are the producers and curators of a series of films called Toronto's Other Art Scene. Rebecca Diederichs sent me an email the other days with news of the project. She said: "What they felt was important was creation of documents/documentaries that recorded and "save" that very special period in Toronto's art community - when collectives were abounding as were the amazing spaces that allowed us all to do that work."
Jim Shedden, manager of publishing at the Art Gallery of Ontario, gave this vote of confidence:
“Toronto has been negligent in documenting its own history. Toronto’s Other Art Scene explores an extremely important moment in Toronto art history: the development of the artists’ collectives in the late 80s, through the 90s and into the new millennium. This explosion of D.I.Y. energy is a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit of the Toronto art scene. I look forward to seeing the short films as they emerge, and for the overall story to emerge.”
Please donate to help get these stories told!
Yes, the project is being crowd funded. Any collective raising $2000 via the IndieGoGo campaign will have their story told.
Here's the link:

If you are interesting in donating a few bucks specifically to say, Place and Show, (for example) leave a comment in the "Comment" section saying who they are, the collective they're supporting and how much their donation was for. The Comments tab is just under the Toronto's Other Art Scene headline (along with Story, Updates, Funders, Gallery).

Here's the link to the Facebook page where you can see the 3 films made so far (if you "like" the page, so much the better).

If any of you donate, let me know, and I will send you a copy of the really lovely booklet we produced to document our work at StreetCity, an amazing innovative housing project in a disused postal warehouse in Toronto's east end.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Faces in the Forest

 Somebody who walks the same path I do has been scattering leaf faces in the woods.
 They are delightful to find. Such a simple surprise.
Maybe this is a bit of child's play, like the trick of blowing through one's cupped hands with a blade of grass as a reed to make the sound of a duck. Or making daisy chain necklaces. Does anyone remember other "naturecrafts"?
These walks in the forest are influencing me. Here's the beginning of the the latest Codex Canadensis piece. It measures about 52 inches long and 32 inches high.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

After the Rain

There was a big storm last night, and the power went out for twelve hours. Everything was soaked, but the sunlight coming through the trees made me forget any inconvenience.
I took the doggies for a long walk in the forest. The late October light was magical.
I had been planning to blog about Canada's butthead of a Prime Minister using the shooting in Ottawa to further erode our civil rights and totally shred whatever tattered remnants of privacy we might have left. Never mind that nobody knows the facts behind what happened, just govern on flimsy assumptions.
But this beautiful light makes me forget all that, at least for a moment.
The spider will spin her web, no matter what.
The moss will quietly carpet the ground,
and even the trees. It must be time for the little frogs to begin their chorus.
There could even be fairies, and witches and elves, creatures of a much deeper and powerful realm than the phantoms of politics.
Tyrants and zealots and political opportunists will come and go, but we will be alright as long as there are forests.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Small in Size, Big in Heart

Red Hare Pale Moon, 2014 by Sarah Fincham
One of the best things about blogging is the lovely people one meets. Small Offerings' Sarah Fincham made a first-time comment on one of my posts about a month ago, and I went to have a peek at her blog, as I usually do when someone new says hello. I thought her work was distinctive and elegant, with a whimsical sense of humour and found that we both lived in semi-remote places accessible only by water. We corresponded a bit and when I had a closer look at her website and saw her wish list, I had the impulse to send her a few goodies.

Now, as we know, textile people are the most generous - maybe it is the excitement in finding out that someone else shares your weird vocation! I opened my mailbox the other day to find a little parcel from England, and in it was this wonderful embroidery. As I said to Sarah in my swooning thank you note:
It is absolutely lovely and resonates with me on many levels... I love the colours, the imagery, the precious silk lace, your fine stitching and very effective use of pattern, so simple and elegant. And that playful hare, such a powerful leap and determined look in his eyes. And that sweet pale moon, just the right amount of shimmer. Of course there is the Japanese hare and moon reference, but you have done it subtly so it snuck up on me. And the columns of red on the sides are unusual, with that pale dot in the centre. Lots of places for the eye to rest but also a sense of movement, a float-y quality almost.
I am so lucky! I feel like I may have got the better part of the exchange, so don't be surprised, Ms. Fincham, if something else arrives in your postbox!

And I recommend that everyone take a swing by Sarah's blog, and her Etsy Shop. Her offerings are small in inches only!

Look What Tea and Cake Can Lead To!

 You know you've had a hooker over for tea when the orts on the plate aren't all of the edible variety.
Wee snippets of wool.
 And I guess hosting a lively group of textile enthusiasts in the afternoon inspired me for later in the evening. It doesn't look like I have done anything but fancy napkin folding, but I was working on some ideas for a winter white quilt made entirely of vintage linens. I had twelve napkins, so I tried this first:
Then I folded eight of them a different way, and came up with this octagon, which I think could work as a centre for an eight-pointed star. But as you can see from the jumble on my table, I need more space!
It really doesn't look like anything at this point. But I think it has potential, especially if I stitch a layer of cream silk to the inside of each triangle so the lace gets shown off to advantage.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Done Like Dinner

The 2014 Thanksgiving Studio Tour is over. Well, technically there is still an hour to go, but it's pouring rain, and we haven't had any visitors for two hours, so I'm assuming that everyone is snug and warm at home. Anyway, it was a mad house the first day, with over a hundred visitors. I was exhausted by 4:00, and trying to think of clever ways to get out of the next two days. Get my mom to write a note to the Arts Council, saying I was in bed with a bad cold? Post a sign on the door saying "Gone Fishin'"? Oops, there's the doorbell, please excuse me.
A few more intrepid souls ventured out in the rain. A lot of people came just to see the dome, I think. I heard many stories about the house's history over the past few days, and met the owner of the only other dome on the island, as well as the past owner of this one. Kinda fascinating, and for me a nice break from talking about my own work - I am truly feeling like a broken record.
We didn't sell a lot, but that was hardly our goal. Mostly we just wanted to meet people and have them see what we do - sort of an investment in the future that I am am sure will pay off in many ways, the least of which is monetary. Lots of cards were exchanged, there is talk of teaching and stitching groups and collaborations.
I found out that many women share my love of vintage linens, and that many have stashes of treasured pieces.  I even had a group of Girl Guides visit, and I was proud to show them the sampler that I made for an embroidery badge back when I was a Guide.
The duly chastised guard dog retreats to her pile of pillows.
The low point of the weekend was with our first visitors on the second day, when our worst nightmare happened. Gracie and Mischa, resident canines, aren't particularly used to guests and tend to bark unpredictably. We couldn't find anyone to take care of them, so we just kept them under control with lots of rewards, and they behaved perfectly the first day, greeting 100 people without incident. But when a family of five, including two small children, arrived on Day 2, the dogs barked, the kids freaked, Mischa charged the little boy, nipping his pant leg, and everyone was very upset. James immediately grabbed Mischa and retreated to the bedroom, not coming out for hours. He later said he was envisioning lawsuits and the police coming and having to make a run for it. Of course none of that transpired - I just went on automatic and greeted visitors on my own for a while, and everything went fine. But I felt just terrible, thinking we had ruined the tour for that family, and the kids would grow up fearing art and especially artists and their dogs.

Another less serious example of why dogs and studio tours may not mix is that Gracie had eaten something that didn't agree with her and was wafting the most disgusting farts through the room as I was talking to people. Silent but deadly.
Well, that was written two days ago. It sure takes me time to get my energy back. I'm not 100% re-charged, but getting there. James and I have taken the momentous step of hiring an assistant, part-time. Not that we have money to pay her - James is using the wages from HIS part-time job to fund the position. But our hope is that she will help us be more productive and better organised - I will introduce you to her in future posts.
And here is the completed embroidery I did for Chris. It measures 18 inches high and 52 inches long, and I am very happy with how it turned out. The photo doesn't quite show off the colour of the text, it is a bit darker than it looks here, but the embroidery floss has a sheen to it that reflects light.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014


It is the custom on the island to use driftwood or stone for one's street sign. We had a funny little flag but with the studio tour this coming weekend we needed a little more street presence, so I whipped up this arrangement. I found this lovely chunk of driftwood a while back and was hoping to use it in the garden, but this shows it off better. I love building with stone - too bad I can only move a few before my wrists complain!

The Chinese coin and plastic frog complete it nicely, I think. They were scavenged from elsewhere on the property. We get a lot of visits from tree frogs since there is a pond/swamp across the road, and the owner of the dome had placed a number of frog lawn ornaments around the yard to make them feel welcome.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

If Only All My Other Projects Would Get Finished This Quickly

I have completed the footstool cover. The little stool had a note on the underside stating that it was carved in 1964 by "H. Andrews (blind)". Fifty years later, it is braced and mended and sports a bright new cover.
Cost: under $10. The burlap backing was bought new and I got a couple of pieces of wool from the thrift store. This pleases me in oh so many ways. And my Great-Aunt Margie, the original owner of the stool, would approve, I think.
Although she would no doubt be aghast at its intended use. Mischa does need a boost to get up onto the bed. Here she looks very serious, but her tail is wagging furiously. And I notice the rug is in desperate need of vacuuming. Oh well.
And this is what my workspace looked like afterwards. I am unrepentant.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Gather Inspiration Where Ye May

It was a good sign when I arrived at Kathy's house for the Saturday afternoon rug hooking group. There was a lovely plant on the front step whose blossoms looked like they could have been hooked. Does anyone know what this beauty's name is?
Kathy showed off a rug made by a Shawnigan Lake hooker, whose name she couldn't remember. (A reminder to always label your work!) Even to my beginner eyes, this piece shows off a very skilled use of directional hooking, colour and texture.

So what's this rug hooking interest all about for me? It's not like I need more projects. The simple reason is that I have always liked the look of hooked wool. I especially love the Grenfell rugs of Newfoundland, and the story of Jessie Luther, a proto-art therapist from the 1900's who made a reality of Dr. Grenfell's idea of helping the women of the outports become more self-sufficient. Even back in the 1980's, when I was a self-absorbed space cadet, I remember noticing  Barbara Klunder's hooked rugs and thinking how marvelous they were. So rugs have always been lurking in the background.

But I never got around to trying it, until a neighbour on Salt Spring Island, Lynn Raymond, gave me a quick lesson one day. I was amazed at how simple it was, but other projects loomed, so it wasn't until another neighbour here on Gabriola, Roberta Bryan, invited me to a beginner's workshop that I actually took up the hook. I was hoping for something that had a different sort of hand movement so that I could take a break from stitching, and although I suspect that if I did enough of it, hooking would lead to more repetitive strain, just in a different part of my hand, it does use more of my palm and takes pressure off my fingers.

Our beginner group has over a dozen members, which seems to have surprised even the "madam" hookers who are guiding us along. This is a craft which was barely on my radar. Unlike Atlantic Canada, the West Coast has no tradition of hooking. It is so simple to do, and can cost so little, I suppose there isn't the same attraction to developing a market that there has been for quilting or knitting. But it is so easy, and versatile, maybe it is the next craft phenomenon.

I picked up the book below from the library. Deanne Fitzpatrick's Inspired Rug Hooking  offers much more than the title would indicate.

I think this is a great guide for any textile artist who wants to design their own work. There is nothing here that art school would teach you, no Bauhaus fundamentals of design. Instead, Deanne is like a loving, generous friend, sharing her own approach of drawing upon the world around her for inspiration.

Here's her opening line:
Making rugs is not just a utilitarian practice; it is a personal journey. I believe that in making rugs, or any other kind of art, you are constantly confronted with your powerlessness to be perfect, or to even be what you want to be, and your comfort with this imperfection makes you open and accepting of "less than-ness." You realize that you are a small part of something bigger.
She then talks about visiting a nun who is a sculptor working with stone. The nun says, "I rarely get down on my knees to pray, but I pray all the time with my work."

Deanne continues,
I have read, and I have felt, that when you are creating you can get closer to God or whoever you think made this beautiful place, where every leaf and every tiny creature has a structure that is intricate and complex and beautiful. You come to understand, as a mat-maker especially, that the world is created in patterns, with rhythm and beauty. This understanding comes from making rugs, because their creation is a meditation and through it you come to understand yourself and the world around you.
 Which is a pretty darn good way of saying why one makes art of any kind, I think. Her chapter titles give an idea of where she draws her inspiration from: Beauty by Design, House and Home, Walking Into the Landscape, Magic and Storytelling, Creativity and Spirit, People and Community, Hooking a Prayer.

I can't recommend this book highly enough, as an excellent read and inspirational guide. It's not a "How-to Hook" book though, apart from a few sidebars with technical advice, but if you want to learn I'm sure there are videos on YouTube, books in your library, or even a rug hooking group in your community.