Last weekend was a bit of a difficult one for me, and so it is at these times that I make a special point of hitting the studio when I feel low. And I also try to remember to focus on gratitude when I know how much support I get from family and friends. I am so grateful for the galleries that share my work as this year already 23 paintings have found new homes. My family is well and happy. Our house looks lovely now that the hail damage from last year has been repaired. My role as the Arts + Culture Coordinator at our public library is wonderful as are the people I work with. We found the cutest replacement (the Boler Funkmobile) for our previous trailer that burned down when it was getting hail damage repairs. The books I've had the pleasure of devouring have been one great read after another. I've been enjoying the greatest green tea lattes. And not only did I accomplish so much in the way of art, today I feel great.
Wild Bergamot is one of my favorite wildflowers and always reminds me of a Jester's cap. This plant was highly regarded by Native peoples who used it medicinally for ailments from acne to bronchial and stomach issues. A few tribes used bergamot as perfume or insect repellant and others as meat preservative. It was also used ceremonially in the Sun Dance.
Many families still brew a tea using the leaves this flower to treat colds and as a mouthwash. It is also known as Bee Balm or Honey Plant as it is popular with honey-gathering bees. As part of the mint family, the leaves are edible with a slight minty flavor and so are often used as garnishes in salads.
by Emma Donoghue
A disturbing and fascinating novel. It is the story of a woman and her son who live their lives locked in an eleven by eleven foot room. The story is told in the voice of her five-year-old son Jack who is finally learning that there is a world outside of this place. Though it is a sad story, it is told beautiful with wit and love.
The Age of Hope
by David Bergen
Being born of Mennonite parents who live near Winnipeg, I really enjoyed this story of Hope Koop who lives in a very similar environment. Her world is very traditional until she is introduced to feminist literature and suddenly her world expands. She begins to question her life and wonders about her place in it. Beautifully written.
The Rosie Project
by Graeme Simsion
A funny story that focuses on Don, a socially inept but brilliant professor who begins his search for a wife. Rosie, 'a quite intelligent barmaid', finds herself in his life and though she is absolutely unqualified and ill-suited, not fitting his scientific list of a perfect match, he is surprised to find himself to be attracted to her. A cute read.
by Frances Itani
This novel is set in eastern Canada just after the second world war and revolves around two sisters and secrets they share. The story shares the challenges of a difficult history and how secrets can be the unraveling of a family. Frances Itani is a lovely writer.
The Back of the Turtle
by Thomas King
I have long been a fan of Thomas King's writing and this novel was not a disappointment. Gabriel returns to the reserve where his mother grew up and which is now deserted due to an environmental disaster with the intention of ending his life. Thomas King is a witty writer and a incomparable story-teller.
The Signature of All Things
by Elizabeth Gilbert
I was never really a fan of Eat, Pray, Love (though I did love the movie) but I was pleasantly surprised by this novel. It is set in the 19th Century and follows the life of botanist Alma Whittaker who studies mosses. The story takes you from London, Peru and Philadelphia to Tahiti and Amsterdam, and is a love story between a scientist and a spiritualist.
All My Puny Sorrows
by Miriam Toews
My husband grew up with the Toews family so I always find it interesting reading Miriam's stories since so many things reflect their lives in some way. This is another Mennonite story but this one relates the life of two sisters, one seemingly glamorous and the others a challenge and yet the opposite is true. The story is really told as dark comedy and though it is tragic it is told with great humour.
by Elizabeth Gilbert
Because I enjoyed The Signature of All Things so well, I decided to read Elizabeth Gilbert's first novel which was published in 2000. It is set on a small island struggling with a dying lobster fishery. Ruth Thomas returns to home after many years away at boarding school and learns to make her way in a changing world.
by Kim Thuy
Ru is written as a journal and shares the family's flight from Vietnam to Quebec. It is a fictional story based on the author's own experiences of immigration in challenging circumstances. When I read this story I was reminded of my college roommate's own experiences and was reminded to be grateful for being born in this country.
The Best Laid Plans
by Terry Fallis
This is a story about a burnt-out Canadian political aide who is forced to run a hopeless campaign. To avoid teaching English to Engineers, a grouchy old Scot, Angus McClintock is talked into letting his name stand and through no fault of his own wins the election. It's a hilarious story of Canadian politics.
The Night Stages
by Jane Urquhart
I love stories written by Jane Urquhart and this was no exception. The story begins with a female pilot in Ireland just after the second World War. The storyline was lovely and I always enjoy learning something even in fiction as I wasn't aware that women piloted airplanes during the war, though they just moved them between bases and manufacturing companies.
by J.K. Rowling
Because I enjoyed the Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) mysteries so much I finally decided to give Casual Vacancy a try and I enjoyed it. It took me about 1/3 of the way through the story before I decided that it was a joy to read as there were a number of characters whom I had to get to know before I could connect with the storyline. It revolves around a death and an empty council seat which a number of people are desperate to get hold of...a casual vacancy. Sometimes sad, sometimes funny, and always well-written.
“Don't wait until you know who you are to get started. If I'd waited to know who I was or what I was about before I started "being creative," well, I'd be sitting around trying to figure myself out instead of making things. In my experience, it's in the act of making things and doing our work that we figure out who we are. You're ready. Start making stuff.” ― Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist
I often read articles on finding your voice as an artist, and they all basically point to doing a lot of work. That often means drawing and drawing some more. Stop taking workshops (if that's what you do) and sit down daily with a sketchbook and draw what you see around you. It doesn't need to be a perfect or life-like representation of the object but you do need to draw a lot.
I have always kept a small sketchbook in my purse along with a pen or mechanical pencil and have found that my voice finds me. The things I am drawn to just show up and beg to become a series of paintings. The way I draw hasn't changed much from when I began drawing in school at a very young age and though that may seem disappointing, I think it's a good thing. It means that we all have our unique style within us. Plus, as a bonus, when we draw over and over and over again, we get better at it, seeing the shapes that make up each object, noticing distances between the objects, and setting up a composition on our page. I agree with Austin Kleon, that in doing the work we find ourselves.
Yesterday I read of an online photo app that looked like fun so I decided to try it this morning and I have to say I love it as it's simple and looks great. After a quick glance through the site I noticed that there aren't a huge variety of options for adding my own artwork to gallery-style images, but I really liked this one and I'm sure I'll be back. www.photofunia.com
This year's 52 WEEKS PROJECT has passed the half-way mark which has got me thinking about what I'll do next year. It seems early but I know that my creative brain needs a long lead up time to find that thing that sings to my heart...that idea that will carry me through and push my boundaries a little. The past two weeks have been a time of experimentation and generating ideas, pulling out my charcoals and pencils and gouache paints once again. I haven't figured anything out yet but am excited by the immersion in new ideas and getting my materials together.
A few thoughts have been to work on a black gesso background (I like how it always makes colours pop), focusing on portraits (but that may be a huge stretch to create one a week that I'll be happy with), creating a body of work based on the historical villages and museums my family always visits (somehow that seems to be more like archiving rather than creative expression for me), painting fairytales (that seems a bit hefty for a weekly project, too), working in a different media (but, oh how I love acrylic paint), working on a new substrate (but as much as I love acrylics, I also love stretched canvas), to working more abstract or realistic (but, again, I love working semi-realistic), and on and on and on.
I know that the ideas tend to come when I'm focused on my work, when I experiment with new (or re-newed) media, and also when I take time to wander and sketch. But I also know they find me unexpectedly as I go about my day, caring for my family, doing those mundane chores, and dealing with my work at the library. Suddenly I realize what has been capturing my attention for some time and there's nothing more that I want to do than to capture that in paint.
So, at this point, I think I need to stop thinking for awhile and just do what I do. Wish me luck!
Western meadow rue grows in cool, moist forests and the male and female flowers grow on separate plants - this star-shaped pinwheel is representative of the female plant, while the male plant tends to resemble hanging lanterns. Traditionally First Nations' peoples used the plant medicinally as an infusion to treat fevers, as a love charm and also as a stimulant for horses. Occasionally young leaves were cooked as food but have been known to be linked to toxic plants. Meadow rue is currently being researched for possible use in the treatment of cancer.
My mind is constantly busy and my husband often tells me I over think everything, which I know to be true. Thank goodness for art as it seems to be the only thing that allows me to focus, to be present. No judgement, no negativity, no wanting, just peace.
When I'm not painting I tend to analyze every conversation, every move, questioning myself, my motives, and always whether what I do or say is necessary. I do believe that I'm not the only person out there that feels this way but it is in those times of deep thought that I experience some of my greatest hardships and also some of my greatest creative ideas.
Lately I've been giving a lot of thought to who I am, where I come from, why I do what I do, and why certain things draw my attention, especially in my painting life. My parents are immigrants from Paraguay, South America and though I am deeply connected to those roots with the joys and challenges that came with them, I never really felt a part of that experience. I appreciate things made by hand, as where my family comes from that was a necessity, though they made a point of creating things that were both functional and beautiful. I was taught to crochet, knit, embroider, sew, and create patterns from scratch. In our home we were raised listening to Spanish music and eating Spanish, German and Ukranian foods. I love history and handmade.
My extended family is made up of the most wonderful people from so many different cultures - Italian, Portugese, Guayanese, Spanish, French, Indigenous Guarani, Scottish and German - so we were treated to a huge variety of food, art, celebrations, and religious beliefs. There are a total of 29 people in both families plus spouses and children and grandchildren, plus several families live in other countries, and because I grew up so far away from them, we only saw them once a year or less and very briefly.
In my northern community of Leaf Rapids, Manitoba I was exposed to canoeing, snowshoeing, dogsledding, tenting and cooking over a fire (bannock is still a favorite treat). Learning what was safe and healthy to eat and what wasn't. We were taught to care for the land and animals within it. Most of my friends were first generation Canadians, Newfoundlanders and Metis or Cree. I spent many hours in the dense boreal forest, in and on the clear, frigid waters of the Churchill River, and lying in the snow watching the Aurorea Borealis dance in every colour imaginable. Occasionally wild animals such as bears and wolves would wander through town, which meant it was okay to be late for school once in awhile. I was taught stone carving by First Nations' artist Michael ManyEagles, and beading and weaving from our neighbor Mrs. Merasty. The first artwork I saw in my life was that of the Woodland Artists, which is where I first dreamt of being an artist.
I was born in Winnipeg but was very young when we moved up north and have now lived near the Rocky Mountains for twenty-four years and the awe-inspiring ruggedness of them and the creeks, rivers and lakes that run through them fills my spirit. I am inspired by the animals, plants and trees as well as the vivd colours of the ever-changing skies. And the way the clouds settle into the mountain tops, which is that ghost-like feeling I try to capture in my work.
Last year I had the opportunity to work with a group of young graffiti artists and because I love every single art form, that experience was also finding its way into my work in incorporating spray paint and stencils. I have visited and been inspired by the Group of Seven exhibits many times in my life, at the Winnipeg Art Gallery and Glenbow Museum in Calgary, feeling especially drawn to Tom Thomson's small vibrant painted sketches on wood panel. I was fortunate to visit the Carr, O'Keeffe, Kahlo exhibit in Vancouver as those women all inspired my desire for simpler themes and a spiritual glow to the work, much like the Group of Seven's Lawren Harris, whose beautiful work brought me to tears many years ago. Much like the Group of Seven, my husband and I like to hike and have seen the most beautiful patterns on the rocks which also find their way into my paintings. Nature and history are probably the biggest influences for me.
And now, as I put these thoughts to words, I feel like my work really reflects who I am...incorporating my youth in the canoes and the patterns of the Woodland Artists, my family history in many of the stencil patterns, exposure to both folk and graffiti art in slight abstraction and vibrant colour and even the northern lights and sun dappled clear water in incorporating the shine of mixed media such as copper or silver leaf. I feel like what I do embodies how I feel about the Canadian Spirit and how grateful I am to be Canadian.
"I get out my work and have a show for myself before I have it publicly. I make up my own mind about it - how good or bad or indifferent it is. After that the critics can write what they please. I have already settled it for myself so flattery and criticism go down the same drain and I am quite free."
- Georgia O'Keeffe
Benjamin Chee Chee
Vincent van Gogh