Friday, 31 December 2010

Done is better than perfect

This sign hangs in my studio. It reminds me that the doing is more important than perfection. It reminds me that making bad art is better than making no art at all. It reminds me that writing a blog post with punctuation and grammatical errors is better than writing nothing at all. A confession: I have been writing this blog for three years... in my head. What are you not doing because you are afraid of failing, or being a fool?

A new year is upon us. Forget the resolutions. Set three small goals and go after them one day at a time, day in and day out. Go for it. After all, done is better than perfect.

Courage recycling

Word fragment from a tea box: sage advice?

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Problem child #1

© Karen Thiessen 2008 Shadow: Transformation IV
In my studio practice, I regularly encounter duds, disasters, and problem children. Yes, these are the textiles and collages that take months, and sometimes years, to resolve. Shadow: Transformation IV began as two unresolved textiles. The base textile was originally vertically-oriented with a long tail hanging down and hung unresolved on my studio wall for over a year. I had been hand and machine stitching the "top" textile for several years. Two things happened to move this piece along: the "collage thinking" from my collage classes finally sunk in and after teaching a texture workshop one weekend my thinking changed direction. The moment that I walked into my studio that weekend I saw the two duds in a new light. I was bold and chopped the tail off the base textile and then oriented it horizontally. Then I brazenly hacked up the top textile and attached it to the base textile. Voila! After three years of being in limbo, two became one. Shadow: Transformation IV represented Canada in the Cheongju International Craft Biennale 2009. Do you know how much courage it takes to chop up a textile that has taken several years of work?

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Patterns of the everyday

Stove burner pattern © Karen Thiessen 2010 
A few months ago I decided to begin a studio log to track my progress and to build some accountability into my goal-reaching process. This year I had three large projects that needed my attention and the only way that I could tackle them was to break them into ridiculously small chunks. The studio log was so effective that I will continue to use this tool in my practice. At the end of the day I couldn't bear to see a blank spot in the log, so I would always do at least one or two things to move my projects forward. I am pleased to share that one of the three projects is complete and the other two are looking good.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Marimekko shadows

Shadows cast on our dining room wall through our Christmas ornament laden Ficus tree. 
If you are decorating your home on a budget, or just crave something different, tea towels are affordable art. Hang this Marimekko linen tea towel with two white map pins and you've got instant art.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Paper angel

Children's ornaments are the best. My friend Rachael made this when she was 3 years old. That was 16 years ago and now she is in university. The ornament is simple but meaningful. 

Merry Christmas to you all.

Friday, 24 December 2010


Our simple decorations are up and Jerry is keeping cool in the refrigerator. Jerry is a 15 pound turkey that we will serve on Christmas day. I've been trolling the web for brining recipes and ideas for cranberry sauce. This is our first time hosting on the big day and we are pretty excited and probably over-prepared. We even bought our first puzzle. 

My great grandmother gave me these mini-glass balls a life-time ago. I'm glad that a part of her is with us as we establish new traditions.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Gifts of the mundane

Module from One in Six: Hunger for the Just Food? exhibition
OK, I'll spill. I'm not a fan of Christmas. Yes, it's true and here's why: years ago the true meaning of Christmas became obscured by the gunk of desire, expectations, and unsustainable consumption. During this season we are distracted by the stress of it all and fail to notice the small mundane gifts that we are given each day: squirrel tracks in the snow, the architecture of bare trees, the tear drop shape of an apple seed. 

Winter wonderland

Homecoming by Marybeth Leis Druery
Winter has become my favourite time of year. The light quality is crisp and clear and with deciduous trees free of their leaves, the sun reaches secret corners that are normally shaded. When the ground is blanketed in snow, the sun reflects brilliantly. In Winter we receive fewer hours of sunlight, but its magical quality more than makes up for this. 

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Pattern of mistakes

Here is another tea stain pattern that is basically taking advantage of a mistake. The potential of "mistakes" is worth mining. In the 1970s my grandma sewed a red-and-white gingham blouse for me but forgot to preshrink the interfacing. The first time my mom washed the blouse, the placket shrunk to the point that grandma couldn't fix it. I still remember that blouse and the "mistake." Five years ago I started to explore texture in my textile work and remembered the red-and-white gingham blouse. OK, interfacing has come a long way in the past 30 years, so it took some super-sleuthing to find a brand that shrinks. It was well worth the hunt because the post-sewing and washing texture was spectacular. Keri Smith looks at cultivating mistakes in her books Mess and Wreck This Journal. Check them out and embrace the so-called mistakes in your life.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Eureka peace

Postcard design by Karen Thiessen for a Mennonite church, 2010
How do designs come together? This is a postcard that I designed for a local Mennonite church and it is miles removed from my initial concept. This design came to me while I was sitting in church and I fine-tuned it while visiting with friends at their cottage. In both situations I was relaxed. If you read about ideas and eureka moments, you will learn that solutions often arrive while the mind is relaxed or occupied with something else. Recently ideas have come unbidden while sweeping the porch, riding my exercise bike, taking a shower, and going for a walk.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Listening in action

Church was the perfect place to daydream, until I realized that listening to the sermon once in a while might be beneficial. For a non-auditory person, this was a challenge until I discovered a unique solution: if I drew during the church service I could listen better and even recall what was said. I know another artist who listens best if she has a pen in her hand. The ink drawing above is evidence of careful and respectful listening. 

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Beauty and the bracket

Bracket collage done in sketchbook while visiting a friend at her cottage.
Aren't curly brackets a wonder to behold? Once I read more from The Elements of Style, I'll have a better idea of proper usage of these curly wonders. 

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Sandra Brownlee: Art Hero

Thirteen years ago a woven cord "introduced" me to a woman who became a good friend. Sal is willowy and with a mass of impossible curls she appears to be 5'12", as they say in her family. I only noticed these traits later. What caught my eye was the colourful woven cord that she wore as a necklace. As Sal told me about the aunt who wove this cord, the gears in my brain started whirring. This aunt sounded oddly familiar.

In 1995, two years before I moved to Halifax and met Sal, I saw an exhibit called Weaving Out Loud at the Textile Museum of Canada that captured my imagination and instantly thrust the artist, Sandra Brownlee, to the top of my list of art heroes. The show was a fifteen year retrospective of her fine black-and-white woven images. In a small alcove in the gallery were two of Sandra's sketchbooks that viewers could look through, and with pleasure I did. The sketchbooks were a riot of colour, invention, drawings, and inspiration. They were a beauty to behold and they remained firmly stuck in my memory. During an artist talk about the exhibit Sandra seduced us with her storytelling about her BFA studies at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, her studio in an old church just outside of Halifax, her MFA studies at Cranbrook, and her years teaching and weaving in Toronto and Philadelphia.

Like her aunt Sandra, Sal is a gifted storyteller and it was her description of the church studio on the Bedford Highway that helped me connect the dots. Later I learned that the cord was woven in the 1970s, possibly in the church studio, and until Sal appropriated it for a necklace Sal's mom used it as a curtain tieback. It's funny how Sandra unknowingly introduced me to a good friend through a 95 inch woven cord, and then Sal introduced me to my art hero, Sandra Brownlee.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Tea time pattern

Tea time pattern 2 © Karen Thiessen 2010

I can't believe that this is my 20th post! Here's a pattern that I created in Photoshop from my tea stain experiments. See, you can design with anything life gives you.

Stains: Day In & Day Out

This was inspired by a page in Keri Smith's Wreck This Journal. She asks the participant to fling coffee at a page, but since Japanese green tea is my hot beverage of choice, I used tea bags. No flinging was involved in this experiment. Every day, over several weeks, I left my two tea bags somewhere on the page and let the magic happen. Aren't the hard edges gorgeous? Do you see faces, animals or other creatures in the stains à la Rorschach inkblot test

Monday, 13 December 2010

Collage of daily life

This is a collage of ephemera assembled from daily life: doodles, security patterns from envelopes, colour codes from packaging, and so on. It's a collection organized into a grid. It would be interesting to make a collage like this every week just to see how the ephemera shifts over time. I'm game for a few new security patterns to go into circulation. Are you hearing me banks and utilities?? Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Just Food?

One in Six: Hunger © Karen Thiessen 2010
This is one of six modules from a commission that I did for the Mennonite Committee on Human Rights for an exhibition addressing food justice called Just Food? They commissioned me to make two artworks for a show that is travelling across Canada. After much research and thought I made artwork that addressed how North American consumption negatively impacts people who are food insecure both in developed and developing countries. That one in six people are hungry and one in six people are overweight are two staggering statistics. I think there might be a TED talk about this.


Note the beautiful shapes from the negative spaces at the 1 minute 18 second mark.

"Minka" trailer from Birdling Films on Vimeo.


These are glass headed pins. When I was young I used red glass headed pins as earrings for my Barbie dolls. Yup, I just poked them right into their heads and the dolls looked trés chic. I found these at MacFab a few years ago and bought them because they are beautiful and they reminded me of hours of play.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Security patterns

These are security patterns from old envelopes given to me by Kathy Renwald. Aren't they lovely?

Paper is the bane of my existence. Like mother, like daughter. My parents ran a company and mom was the financial guru, which meant that the office desk was papered with receipts. When I was young, I didn't appreciate the paper clutter, but unfortunately now I am in the same boat. Receipts aren't my issue but lists, magazines, books, articles, meeting minutes, designs in progress, etc. are. Oh, I also collect ephemera for collage, like security patterns from envelopes, and that is a whole other "situation." 

Is paper a clutter challenge for you? How do you deal with it?

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Chalk it up to wishful thinking

The top image is a toy gun drawn by my dad on the bottom of a dining room chair seat with chalk when he was about 5. I took the image and "feminized" it in Photoshop.  My question is: Did my pacifist grandfather give my dad the toy in the end?

Monday, 6 December 2010

Paperwork (the kind that's enjoyable)

Dunhill Evening Suit collage by Evelyn Kelch

If you love collage and sculptural paper, check out a new show at the Burlington Art Centre called Paperwork Evelyn Kelch's sophisticated collages are paired with sensuous paper work by Erika Reisenberger. It's a gorgeous show.

Thursday, 2 December 2010


Every year I find a few dragonfly cicada wings on my front porch. Isn't this lovely?