I feel absolutely refreshed as I spent the past two days with a group of amazing women in the Badlands. Though I've lived in this area for fifteen years, I've never been to Rosebud, a quaint little theatre community set in a western prairie village and looks as it did 100 years ago.
We stayed at the Rosebud Country Inn which was heavenly - wonderful rooms, food, service - and the views of the coulee were stunning. We each received a quaint packet of handmade soaps and lotions that smell divine by Nature's Essential Garden (and I had the pleasure of meeting their creator, too, who was lovely). BJ, the owner of the Inn, made sure we were well taken care of - such a delightful person - and many of the young ladies who served us tea and pie at the Inn as well as throughout the community graced the stage in the afternoon to play the characters of Anne of Green Gables (where I smiled and cried and laughed).
My friend, Brenda and I visited the Akokiniskway Gallery which is located in the historic United Church and saw the vibrant work of Giselle Denis. 'Akokiniskway' is a name given to the area by the First Nations people and means 'by the river of many roses' due to the abundance of the wild rose, the official flower of Alberta. We also visited Royal Sproule's gallery - he's one of the most interesting people and I'm glad I've had the opportunity to meet him on several occasions. We were treated to a guided walking tour of the village by local illusionist Lothar whose voice and character embodies the spirit of the west.
I ate, I slept in blissful comfort, I laughed and experienced an incredible visual melange of creativity and I feel enchanted. I am absolutely blessed to live in a place surrounded by so much history and culture. I can't wait to go back with my family.
Yesterday I met with a lovely reporter who wanted to discuss the art portion of the Summer Reading Program at the library. I've added a few more images to this canvas since this photo - another frog, paintbrush & pencil (of course) and book complete with it's own bookworm. I loved the theme 'imagine' this year and wanted to create a huge colouring book page and tried to capture all those things that I, as a child, would read and dream of, and play, too. I created my own version of a silly monster (upper left) to honour Maurice Sendak and 'Where the Wild Things Are', the wonky trees are my ode to Dr.Seuss, and I also added a teepee and cowboy hat as the kids will be painting this in July, just in time to celebrate the centennial of the Calgary Stampede. To me the upside down top hat could represent a magician or even the Mad Hatter. And a girl always needs a crown and ballet shoes, or a soccer ball and baseball bat. This project was so much fun and I can't wait to see the kids' reaction to it - I know they'll be excited to paint this one. I hope the theme next year is as much fun.
Last month I ended up teaching a blind contour drawing class to the kids in the Jr Artists Program at the library which made me think about my early beginnings in art class many, many years ago. To practice blind contour drawing is to draw the outline of an object without looking at your paper. It really is a method of slowing down the act of drawing while focusing on the actual object in front of you - paying close attention to the distance in between each part of the object - so I decided that because we tend to work quite quickly, this would be a good exercise to force all of us to slow down and really, really look once again. Then I told the kids that they could draw while looking at the paper, but still keeping the drawing slow by not removing their drawing implement from the page but also, this time, incorporating parts of the interior of the object, while still not lifting the pen or pencil off the page. Today I decided to take it a step further and practice charcoal portraits at home and was pleasantly surprised, especially since I haven't drawn or painted portraits in ages. Portraiture was my forte back in the 1980's and the reason I got into art college. I didn't pay any attention to the 'rules' of portraiture in this instance, just focused on each part of the drawing as I was working. Many heads are quite oval shaped though mine tends to be more rectangular and seems to be growing even more so over the years (it's the German in me). I didn't use a photo but just trusted my instincts and after I finished the exercise I decided to pull out my trusty ruler to measure all the parts and to my surprise, the measurements were very close to the 'rules':
1. The center of your eyes tend to land half way between the crown of your head and the bottom of your chin.
2. The bottom of your nose will lie approximately half way between the center of your eyes and your chin.
3. The bottom of your mouth sits half way between the bottom of your nose and chin.
4. Your ears are located at the center of your eyes and the bottom of your nose.
5. The width of your head is about five eye lengths (one eye length between and one on each side of your head).
The beauty of drawing is that it is inexpensive, requires very limited and inexpensive tools which are available everywhere, and can be done almost anywhere, anytime. Which is why I carry a small sketchbook with me everywhere I go. There are so many resources both online and in print for drawing exercises, and a favorite book for many, many years has been 'Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain' by Betty Edwards. This particular exercise is great for developing hand-eye coordination and improving drawing skills in general, which always enhances creativity in any field.
Yesterday morning I headed into Calgary and spent much of my time wandering the streets of Kensington. First I had a lovely conversation with owner Jonathan while picking up my tea tin from The Naked Leaf (everything smells delicious in there). I selected a grape green tea which tastes heavenly along with a cherry blossom tea chocolate (yum!) and then I meandered over to Kensington Art Supply where I spent much time browsing. I love being surrounded by art supplies and could look at them for hours. I enjoyed the murals and graphitti art on the street and then spent an hour at Higher Ground Cafe where I enjoyed the work of artist Deborah Catton, along with a fabulous matcha tea latte (flavoured with a touch of vanilla - extra yum!), and continued to read a book that I began some time ago which is titled 'Imagine That!' which is about connecting faith & art, something I have struggled with for some time.
Unfortunately traditional faith doesn't tend to support visual arts the way they do music and even drama so I often have felt like a huge part of me is separated, almost amputated whenever I try to become involved in a church. I have learned to accept roles in every other area of my life where I can contribute by utilizing this part of me that is as necessary to me as breath. This is the only area where I don't know how I fit and it makes me sad as spirituality is a huge part of who I am. The author of the book, Manuel Luz, makes many interesting comments in reference to any faith group who might have very strong opinions about how and when art can be considered 'religious' which is why there is such a disconnect between art & faith. But he believes that all of the work created by a spirit-filled person is for and of God and that this connection resonates with others. 'Simply create art that is a true expression of the self. Don't fit someone's formula; create your own. Don't aspire to fame; aspire to authentic self-expression and artistry. Don't seek to 'evangelize'; simply and authentically share your story...We try to be true to who we are, who we are called to be.'
I paint because I enjoy the process, need that deep meditation and prayer that I feel when I paint and am, in fact, lost and sad without it. It gives me a place to pour out my heart and brings me the peace I so desire. I am honoured whenever I am asked to share my work in a public forum whether it is in a facility or in print and whenever someone chooses to spend their hard-earned money to live with a piece of me in their personal space. I am a huge advocate of living authetically which is why no single form or style of work, of sharing the work with others, or combination of any of it fits absolutely every person. There is no marketing scheme that carries success with it. And I dislike marketing as I am just not a saleperson. I love to share with those who would like to be involved with what I do and have found that whenever I do the thing that calls to me, I am filled with peace and wonderful opportunities present themselves. As I think about it, isn't that truly wonderful for each and every one of us?
I'm always asked about the paints I use - my preferred brand is Liquitex artists acrylics for a couple of reasons:
First, it doesn't seem to bother my family like other brands, unfortunately though I do love Golden colours, they seem to off gas more volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are chemicals which are dangerous to human health and the environment and to which my family is extremely sensitive. Pigments which colour paint are the biggest carrier of VOCs. Paints, glues and varnishes are the biggest culprits. And many products also contain formaldehyde as a preservative.
Second, the lids are easier to open and close and it's nice that the tubes can stand upright which means less storage required for me and a better opportunity to see the colours available on my tabouret.
My favorite all-time basic palette is titanium white, pthalo or prussian blue, napthol crimson or pyrrole red, and yellow medium azo or yellow light hansa. I used to use cadmiums but I've read many studies on the exptreme toxicity of them (highly poison) so I've been trying to change the basic palette to something a little less toxic over the past few years. Though I still have much to learn, and hope some day to be able to mix my own colours, something easier on the environment and on my own body.
My secondary palette consists of shades of the basic palette: alizarin crimson (a deep, rich, transparent red), bright aqua green (a lovely turquoise), dioxazine purple (which creates lovely mauves when mixed with white), and vivid lime green. I don't purchase orange as I prefer to mix my own and with the yellow can mix a beautiful turquoise or lime green so I don't always have that in my toolbox either. And, it's funny, but I feel guilty using a pre-mixed purple as well but I splurge once in awhile. I'd have to say, though, that the crimson is so beautiful that I cannot resist. It's something I just can't mix on my own. I was taught to use the primaries and white (no black) so, oddly enough, I still tend to stick with that - though I do vary the red, yellow or blue I purchase to create a new mix of colours.
NOTE: Liquitex also carries a primary colour pack called 'MIXING4' which includes yellow medium azo, pthalo blue, quinacridone crimson and titanium white and is quite economical.
It's interesting, kind of funny really, how I remember Liquitex from my childhood as they created a popular craft product known as 'liquid embroidery' which my mother tried. I had a hard time getting over that 'craft' label when I began using these paints but have now used them happily for eight years and love their vibrancy. I also love the richness of the pigment as I can mix them with water and glazing medium to use as liquid acrylics and they still retain their vibrancy. I miss being able to use oils, their buttery consistency and sheen, but I've found that these acrylics allow me to fulfill my passion. And really, what else do I need?
This morning I really enjoyed Robert Genn's newsletter in which he discusses how fickle we can be in our society - in everything, including art. Fads come and go and come back again. And two of the things I have learned in my twenty-five years as an artist is that...
a) it's like chasing your tail to try to figure out what's going to be the 'next best thing', and
b) it makes me terrribly unhappy when I even attempt to contemplate doing that.
I paint because I love colour and canvas. I paint chairs and canoes because I enjoy it, because it is ingrained in my DNA. Period. No need to worry about what goes on outside of my happy little world. I don't worry about marketing because I did that once upon a time and ended up wasting so much money and time and joy. I just do what I love. I love to paint. I love to write about it, too. And I know that when I follow my heart, I do connect with someone else's - and if I don't, that's okay, too, because I love what I do. In closing his newsletter, Mr. Genn comments that 'We are what we are and we paint what we want, and when we lose sight of this we sell our souls.' I whole-heartedly agree. And I loved the quote he selected by Louis Armstrong, 'There is no such thing as 'on the way out' as long as you are doing something interesting.' Amen.
This weekend the kids at the library got to try a lovely landscape painting with Char Vanderhorst, a local artist whose beautiful work is currently hanging in the library. It's so great when they get to learn some new art tricks and each artist does bring something new. Plus I finished the drawing for the mural on canvas for this year's Summer Reading Program in July - I always look forward to this program as the kids love painting something so large (approximately 8x4 feet) and are so proud to see the work hanging in the library the rest of the year (I'll share the unpainted canvas after I get a photo of it). I've also planned another mural for the Program Room which we'll begin in June.
I also finished painting number twelve of the 'Sacred Vessel' series which will be exhibited in fall. This one was such a struggle. There were parts I absolutely loved and then others where I didn't know which direction to turn. So it was good to have these other projects, as well as another Cloth Paper Scissors article and work to complete for a break. I tend to leave work up to view, particularly when I am challenged by it, until I get a resolution. And once I was able to turn back to the piece, I definitely had a lightbulb moment and the rest was effortless. It's been interesting as the previous pieces (yes they did also have their challenging moments) were worked 2-3 paintings at a time and so it seemed that I could resolve areas in one while working on another, and this time I only worked on the single piece as I've been working on a number of other projects at the same time and it was more difficult. So, I definitely see the value of working several pieces at once, BUT I am a person who desperately craves order so that sense of 'clutter' causes me stress. I tend to work one piece from start to finish, I think it was ingrained into me as I grew up. I do love the process and don't feel that it is necessary to rush anything or to push when I'm not ready, but still, prefer to complete one piece at a time. Though I do continue to be creative in other areas such as sketching, writing and knitting so I think that also helps me to work through any difficult passages.
I also find, because I'm such an organized person ('anal' is how my husband teasingly refers to it), that working more intuitively causes me a little stress at times. There are problems that are associated with loss of control, BUT (again) I welcome them. I welcome the peace that comes with letting go, with knowing that I don't need to resolve everything today...or ever really. And I have to admit that this process seems to fit the two sides of me, the one that is the moon child, the Cancer, the girl who built fairy houses in the forest, who was labelled 'daydreamer' by her teachers and the one who desperately needs order, lists, and schedules. I am so grateful to have found work that combines it all.
PS I saw the May/June issue of Cloth Paper Scissors with my article 'Whispers: Soul Painting' at Indigo, Chapters and Walmart in the past week - It's so exciting to see them everywhere!
The final project for SouLodge was flower essence, which is lovely, but I think I'm going to go a step further and create a body spray. There is just something about scent that brings to mind full-blown, vibrant images of memories. I would really like to create something to wear and to spray in my home that is non-toxic and carries with it the memory of SouLodge for me, the thing that makes me smile. It was really incredible to delve deeper into my own soul as well as to connect with others. Though I am sad to see it end, I feel like this is just the beginning of a new phase in my life. It is without a doubt that I feel more grounded and, at the same time, open-minded and spiritual for having gone through this experience. Because of this time I spent on myself, I feel more ready to accept those opportunities that present themselves in my life, not so nervous and afraid anymore. So, in that vein, I have finally begun a newsletter which I think I might send out quarterly - something I've been asked for numerous times. If you'd like to receive it, please feel free to send me your email address and I will be happy to add you.
And, speaking of scents, I've been enjoying a wonderful home-made Chai Latte this past week:
1 teabag (I use Earl Grey)
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t ginger
1/8 t allspice (I use 2-3 cloves)
1/2 c water
1 c milk
1 T brown sugar
1 t vanilla
Optional: whipped topping + nutmeg
The second project I'm sharing with you from SouLodge was a cuff as a reminder of our own personal strength & courage - we all have it, we just sometimes forget. So I decided, since I love words to much, to incorporate the word 'courage' into mine, and also to make it narrower as my wrists are very small, and these days I get a little warm at times - one of the many beautiful things about womanhood ;) I enjoyed leather stamping so much that I picked up more leather in a lighter color as I think I would like to add paint as well, since that is my greatest passion. Plus, my daughters loved the idea, I think this would be a great project for all of us to work on together, utilizing the words or images that mean most to each of us, especially since my eldest is on the cusp of leaving for university. A good memory and reminder, I think.
AIRdirondack Art Project