I think that one of the most often asked questions that I receive is 'How do you find your inspiration?' It's something I think about all the time. Sometimes my ideas work out but other times they fizzle out, at times quite dramatically. I'm guessing this is such a common question because I work in large bodies or collections with the same theme, style and media.
Initially, in college we were encouraged to work in series as it helped to build our eye-hand coordination and developed our skillset. That was a lesson I've taken to heart and continued throughout my many years of painting. Then, a number of years ago, an artist told me that it was important to pay attention to what grabs your attention.
With my 'Simple Pleasures' series that consisted of large interior paintings, I had been nursing a baby (then two) for almost two years each due to digestive issues they both experienced. I was sitting a lot and kept a book and sketchbook nearby to keep myself occupied. Those little sketches led to large paintings (typically around 24x24 to 36x48). I loved being able to work large and loose while on my feet after sitting so much, plus it was nice to have a single piece to focus on at a time.
The 'Sacred Vessel' series began because my daughters were getting older and I was experimenting with patterns and colours. At the time I had so much more time on my hands and I was really missing my childhood in northern Manitoba. We lived by the Churchill River in the Boreal Forest and were immersed in Indigenous (Cree and Metis) culture. As part of my public education, we learned how to survive in the wilderness and how to paddle a canoe. I missed that part of my history so much that I began to paint canoes which turned into another body of work.
In 2013 I decided to create a painting a week of common wildlife while trying out a variety of media. This was two-fold, as I wanted to learn more about painting animals as I didn't have a lot of experience with the subject matter, plus I wanted to try different mixed-media. It became my first 52 WEEK project, where I completed a 7x14 painting a week for 52 weeks. This eventually led to the 52 WEEKS::Heroes potrait painting project which led to the 100 day 'Nasty Women' project in response to the political climate in North America.
Currently I am on the final leg of 'The Grandmothers' project. Another portrait project that was inspired by going through old family photographs a year after my father's unexpected passing. I wanted to focus on something really positive and on portraits again. We sometimes forget what the women before us have had to endure and overcome.
There have been many 'mini' projects throughout the years, in between all of these, but I think these are the most important to me as they continuously get me thinking as I work. Occasionally things don't work out and I do let them go, even once I've started as I don't want to feel burdened or stressed by the work I've committed to, but rather want to feel excited to hit the studio every day.
I write notes on anything I can get my hands on, make sketches, and have learned about the power of collaboration. When I get these little nuggets of inspiration, I often discuss them with others (my youngest daughter inspired me to begin the first portrait series) and place a call online for contributions or ideas. I always keep a small travel sketchbook with me to doodle or write in. And I sometimes do a little research because I find it fun. I think my greatest pleasure is preparing canvases to create a new body of work. It gets my mind flowing.
I can't believe I'm so close to the end of this project...and to the end of another year, one that has been extremely challenging for us all. I am so grateful to all these women behind me, as I really do feel like they have kept me going all these months. I don't know how I would have felt without them to keep me moving along each and every day. I've begun the final two portraits (I can't believe there are only 2 left!) and am so excited to complete each of them. To see them all and read more about each of these fabulous women, please visit my portfolio page here.
P.S. The beautiful cosy flannel dress I'm wearing was created by my daughter...if you'd like, you can view more of here work on her website: https://funkkatherine.wixsite.com/mysite
My aunt is Nora Peavoy and she was one of the first four female police officers in Calgary. My auntie actually left the Calgary police for the mistreatment. She was a strong feminist activist for the time too. I think she worked in the airforce as well. I don’t have any picture of her on hand at the moment but I know my mom and grandma has some. She travelled the world alone a lot and even pulled a gun on a group of men who tried to attack her. She had some wild stories. She was quite intimidating but I really liked her when I was a kid.
A Calgary Herald article about her:
~ Alyx Stange
Last week I began working on the final five portraits for 'The Grandmothers' project and I feel really good about this body of work. It has just given me so much joy and a feeling of hopefulness while I've been working on it. During those particularly difficult times in this Covid-19 year, As I reflect on this past year,I have been grateful to spend time in my studio, to read about how these women overcame difficulty and to learn how they influenced and touched so many others. Such incredible role models. This year my shoulders have felt the best they have in years (maybe because I've focused on smaller works?) so I've taken up knitting again, am (as always) enjoying many fiction and non-fiction books and am on the final month of my current university course (fingers crossed for the final exam in January...math is tough!). I've felt a certain type of peace with these women watching over me. Even though I've missed my daughters & son-in-law terribly, I am grateful for opportunities to communicate and to support them from afar. And the support I've received from everyone, including gallery exhibits, has been amazing. My hope is that everyone stays safe and well.
My mother Shirley beat to her own drum throughout her life. She was fun-loving and enjoyed time with her family and her siblings and friends. She loved her grandchildren fiercely and lived with my sisters’ children; Justin, Allyson, Isaiah, and Brianna for much of their lives. Her close relationship with them was a cause of much joy and purpose.
It was when I was first pregnant that I became concerned that living five hours away would hinder the creation of close grandparent bonds that I had with my own grandparents who were integral to my upbringing. However, phone calls and visits created a special connection. Despite the distance she had a strong relationship with both our children; confirming that it is quality not quantity that creates a relationship. Her youngest grandchildren, Carson and Griffin, also lit up her life. She enjoyed sharing stories about their backyard hockey rink and budding love of her favourite sport.
In her final years she was consumed by the debilitating impacts and effects of Parkinson’s Disease that were exasperated by other health challenges. It was a difficult and emotional end to her journey. Overall, she had a good life. She was a tough woman who swore a lot, enjoyed a good glass of wine, and brought a smile to many. Her heart held many loves but it was her grandchildren that made it the most full.
~ Monique Stone
“Bea” was born the second of six girls in Lake Isle, Alberta to hard working immigrant parents. She took her elementary and junior high schooling at Spedden. While her family lived in Saskatchewan she moved to Edmonton where she lived with a family and did household chores for room and board. There she graduated from Victoria High School and made enough money to put herself through nursing training at Royal Alexandra Hospital graduating in the class of 1939. Her first jobs were in a rural Alberta hospital and then as a District Nurse in New Brigden, Alberta. While working there, she met her future husband. Bea resigned her position when they were married. They started married life in another rural community for sixteen years where they raised three children. Bea ran an efficient household, was an excellent cook, and saved money by sewing family clothing and other household items, improvising when things weren’t available, growing a huge garden and preserving much for the winter. She enjoyed community involvement, her curling team and getting together with friends and always included friends and neighbours for holiday meals. Being a nurse in a community without a doctor, neighbours would often visit for medical advice, stitches or bandaging at all hours. Though she always had more than enough to do, Bea took pride in what she did and that pride and caring and the way she treated others was passed down through the generations by example rather than by lesson. Not until her children started post secondary school did she go back to nursing in extended care facilities and in retirement she volunteered in cancer clinics. She had a life and career of caring which she passed along to her children and grandchildren. Though life involved more manual work in those days, there was always time for friends and get togethers and laughter. For the family that included the fun of playing cards from a very young age. Card skills translated to math and problem-solving skills. Bea excelled in school and the same was expected of her children. There was no scolding if marks dropped, just the feeling that one could do better. With more time to be relaxed with her grandchildren, she enjoyed sharing nursing stories, her outstanding baking and recipes, wise sayings, card skills and laughter. Knowing a good life means working hard, caring for others, pride in what you do, taking time for laughter, feeling loved and letting others know they are loved are how Bea, mother and grandmother, influenced her family’s lives. They are so grateful for this gift that can only be paid back in full by paying it forward. Bea was happily married for 60 years and lived to be 93.
~Linda Fulton and Holly Dobek
Each time I've been working on these portrait projects I tend to work 3 pieces at a time. Now that I'm so close to the finish line I am excited and nervous and happy and sad. There are a couple of portraits that I'll be 'tweaking' just a bit but otherwise I'm so grateful to have been able to work on this series. Especially this year.
I'm thinking of a couple of smaller projects for the new year...one possibly being an 18-7x14 inch piece author project (I think) and the other consisting of 14-8x10 canvases though I'm not exactly sure of the subject (a good friend suggested something to do with the suggragette movement in Canada). I've also been thinking of a third consisting of larger canvases may focus on Canadian women who have made a difference (both present and past ) and will possibly be called 'Extraordinary Women' (also subject to change). I am asking for ideas as I do love collaborating with others in this way. I think any of these will incorporate quotes, like the 52 WEEKS::Heroes series that was the beginning of all of this portrait painting. I may be biting off a little too much. These might even last for the next couple of years. We'll see.
AIRdirondack Art Project
Alberta (above) +