Thursday, 31 March 2011

Marimekko love

I bought this bag at the Marimekko store in London, UK a few years ago. The bag surprised me because the design is so different from the Marimekko look. Can't you see accent pillows made with this fabric? Unfortunately this bag is a one-off and it cannot be found on the Marimekko website. If any of you have an inside scoop about this fabric, please let me know. I'd love to buy a few metres and make pillows and a skirt and napkins and....

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Spring cleaning

Spring is when I clean and declutter my home and studio. The top photo is a before shot of my inspiration wall and was featured in this post. On Friday I was hit with an urge to clear and rework my studio walls, a task that took all day. Now the inspiration wall has "lungs" to breathe and already new ideas are brewing. 

The measuring spoons belonged to my Oma, an excellent cook and baker. Susan Lindsay made the small hooked dress. I've loved her work for years. The metal flower-like disc to the left of the cotton ball is the bathtub drain from my parents' old house. Isn't it beautiful?

Tuesday, 29 March 2011


"The road to excess leads to the palace of wisdom... for we never know what is enough until we know what is more than enough." -- William Blake

A student once asked me when I knew an artwork was finished. I responded that sometimes the artwork was finished long before I stopped working on it. There is freedom is taking an artwork beyond its limits. No, it doesn't necessarily work out, but it does teach you what is enough. It also teaches you to feel the work. Early in my career I would stop working on a piece out of fear that I would ruin it, not because I truly felt that it was enough as it was. 

Friday, 25 March 2011

The Print Studio: Small is Good

A Show and Sale of work by Southern Ontario artists 
Opening Reception: Friday April 8, 2011 7pm to 9pm 
The Print Studio 173 James Street North, Hamilton Ontario

The show runs to April 29, 2011

For more info contact: or 905 524-2415

All the work in this show is $100 and is 12" X12" or smaller. Proceeds go towards arts education programming.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Books: Hannelore Baron

Hannelore Baron: Works from 1969 to 1987, Ingrid Schaffner, SITES, 2001. $20.00 (US) Published by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES).

When it comes to describing the intimate and deeply personal work of the late Hannelore Baron, words are woefully inadequate. Baron made collages of paper, cloth, wood, and ink. Born in 1926 in Hitler's Germany, she survived the Holocaust and managed to move with her family to New York in 1941. In around 1960 she began to make collages and continued to do so until her death of cancer in 1987. Out of depression, traumatic childhood memories of the Holocaust, and 14 years of cancer treatments, Hannelore Baron made artwork so beautiful that it could make a grown man cry.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Postcards: Amanda York

Amanda York was a fellow classmate of mine at NSCAD. Although she studied ceramics and I studied textiles and art history, we had a few classes together. Above are two postcards of her work. Long before I was thinking about modular artwork, Amanda was making it. Her collage-like ceramic tiles speak of age, memory, and layers of meaning. Sadly, we lost touch and I don't know if she is still working in ceramics. Whatever she is doing, I am certain that Amanda is doing it brilliantly.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Beauty and necessity

"Important lessons: look carefully; record what you see. Find a way to make beauty necessary; find a way to make necessity beautiful." -- Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces (p. 44)

Early in my studio practice, I listened to a lot of audio books. One audio book, Anne Michaels' Fugitive Pieces, moved me to such a degree that I had to read it again in book form. The above quote about looking, beauty and necessity resonated with me. I had just graduated from NSCAD and some of the conversations that I was "chewing on" were about the place of beauty in art. At that time beauty was taboo. Some leading artists and curators spoke against beauty, especially prettiness. Was the thinking that there is a fine line between beauty and pretty, so let's just do away with both? 

Friday, 18 March 2011

Sketchbook: Seeing

January and February have passed and now we are half-way through March. The cold snowy days of Winter are my best times for gathering and processing images and ideas in my sketchbook. Now that Spring is making an appearance, I'm at the end of a phase of intense sketchbook feeding. I've purged 98 magazines and processed their clippings in my sketchbook. One week I filled over 60 pages of my sketchbook. Last week I also went through my stash of materials and removed several bags from my studio. Both my studio and office are cleaner and leaner and ready for new action. Has Spring fever hit you yet? 

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Quotes: Einstein + Ciardi

"The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing." -- Albert Einstein

"A good question is never answered. It is not a bolt to be tightened into place but a seed to be planted and to beget more seeds toward the hope of greening the landscape of ideas." -- John Ciardi

"If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it." -- Albert Einstein

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Postcards: Greg Lamarche (SF)

While I was visiting lovely San Francisco in 2008, I picked up this postcard in the Mission district and made my way to the gallery exhibiting Greg Lamarche's show, but sadly my timing was off and the show had already closed. This is a detail image of a 2008 paper collage titled The Object is More. You can view the full image at Lamarche's website here. Doesn't it just make you want more?

Tuesday, 15 March 2011


Years of daily Day In and Day Outs (DIDOs) have prepared me for the Lent season. How is this possible? When I commit to a daily practice, it forces me to be more mindful, to pay attention, and to follow through even on days when I feel bored or uninspired. Recently I realized that a studio practice is very much like a spiritual practice after reading Barbara Brown Taylor's An Altar in the World. It's funny how everything is connected. So, back to Lent. Lent is a spiritual practice and for some strange reason, it is my favourite time of the year. It may have something to do with the mindfulness and the discipline of the 40 days. It also helps that it is for only 40 days with a celebration day thrown in once a week. How cool is that? This year Lent began much later than last year and feeling impatient, I jumped the gun and started phase one of Lent on February 7 (a month early) and I gave up chocolate. Venezuelan E. Guittard chocolate is my absolute favourite chocolate, but sadly I cannot get it here in Canada, so it has been a few years since I have had it. So, during Lent, you give something up from Monday to Saturday and then Sunday is a celebration day. Basically, this means that I have only been eating chocolate on Sundays. My appreciation for chocolate is vastly different when I only eat it once a week. I started phase two of Lent on February 28 (ten days early) and decided to add a daily yoga practice of a minimum of 15 minutes. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Yes, daily yoga is another DIDO. Surprisingly, adding a daily practice has been more challenging than giving something up.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Day In and Day Out: Beginnings

Day In & Day Out 1 © Karen Thiessen 2011
Day In & Day Out 1 detail © Karen Thiessen 2011
Here is the original Day In and Day Out project that basically shaped who I am today. This project taught me how to establish a daily work discipline regardless of whether I feel like it or not. On our first day of class, our teacher Sarah Quinton gave us an assignment to do something to a piece of cloth for at least 15 minutes every day for the duration of the four month semester. She also asked us to document this process in a sketchbook. The day in and day out proved to be addictive and I found myself stitching for much longer than the daily 15 minutes, and years beyond the four months. For this DIDO, I stitched what I found, used, or encountered in my daily life. As you can see I had an unhealthy soda drinking habit, I ate chicken wings, I broke an earring, and I had an odd fixation with angels. What I appreciated about the DIDO is that it allowed me to test ideas, materials, and techniques in a "safe" manner. One might regard the DIDO as a modern day sampler.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Circles Installation

Circles are a theme these days. I've been collecting them for a while. The tin plate with the girl wearing a red hat is the only remaining plate from my childhood dish set. These circles are installed on one of my inspiration walls in my studio. Food for thought.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

DIDO 2008

You don't realize what your kitchen is missing until your parents come to visit. My parents gave us a salt shaker and pepper grinder set in the top box. The box was the perfect size to store my first year's worth of DIDO projects-- all 366 of them! (Thanks mom & dad!) As I shared in a previous post, I began my most recent day in & day out project on January 1, 2008. The bottom image is of my first 2" DIDO square. 

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Wall of collage tags

Installation of collage tags © Karen Thiessen 2011

Collage tags installation detail © Karen Thiessen 2011
Here's an installation of some of my over 100 collage tags. They're fun to work on. Some days I am painting, collaging, and stitching as many as 20 at a time.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Backyard visitor

As I was in the dining room eating my lunch, the room darkened momentarily. A large hawk landed in the white birch with a black squirrel in its talons... it had lunch to eat too. This bird is HUGE and is a rare visitor to the yard. He's a shy celebrity and allowed me to take two pictures before he made his exit with his lunch remains in tow.

Collage tag 2

Thread collage tag 2 © Karen Thiessen 2011
I've written before about the beauty of mistakes. This is a tag that just didn't seem to work no matter what I did: paint, image transfer, and collage. Finally I wrapped the thing with sewing thread and suddenly my dud started to sing a new song. 

Monday, 7 March 2011

Bogusky + Twain

Two more quotes pulled from my Dada suitcase:

"Fear is the mortal enemy of creativity, innovation, and happiness." -- Alex Bogusky

"Accident is the name of the greatest of all inventors." -- Mark Twain

Collage tag 1

Collage tag 1 © Karen Thiessen 2011
Last year I started collaging on size 6 (133 mm X 67 mm) manila shipping tags. The tags are downright cheap and they allow me to work quickly on several pieces at a time. So far I have collaged over 100 tags and I have about 80 hanging in a grid on my studio wall. What I appreciate about the tags is that they are non-precious. If a tag doesn't work, I am free to cut it in half, paint over it, wrap it with thread, collage over it ... the sky is the limit. Above is a tag that I painted, added several image transfers, and then collaged over.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Bidding War!!

Dear readers, I'm pleased to share that the above Shadow Box Oooo was subject to a fierce (and dirty) bidding war last night at the Textile Museum of Canada Shadow Box Auction. Although I am a peace-loving person, bidding wars are marvelously fun. The event was packed with triple the number of ticket sales from the previous auction. This year there were some gorgeous shadow boxes although the TMC website photos do not do justice to the artworks. Next year they need to hire a better photographer. In the original post I forgot to tell you all that the stitching was all done by hand. When one of the bidders asked about my machine-sewing technique and I told her it was all done by hand, she started bidding in earnest and won.

Image transfer experiment

Image transfer © Karen Thiessen 2011
A few years ago, I learned how to do image transfers and I really like the unpredictable results. The above transfer was done with magazine images and black-and-white photocopies of my dartboard pattern on heavy watercolour paper. Over top I collaged various translucent papers. I use acrylic medium to do the transfers, so the process is non-toxic.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Postcards: Pearl Van Geest

I collect artist postcards. The above postcards announce two exhibitions of work by Pearl Van Geest at Katherine Mulherin Gallery in Toronto in 2001 and 2004. I picked up the postcard on the left at the 2001 Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition. The previous day we took possession of our house (the worst house in a nice neighbourhood) and all we could do was dream of art and pick up free postcards.  My mantra that day was: new roof, new roof, new roof. I tucked the Skin Deep postcard on my journal, and every day I looked at it longingly as I wrote my Morning Pages. A few years ago, we finally bought one of Pearl's smaller kiss paintings and now it hangs in the dining room, where I look at it every day. Postcards are a small investment that can reap rewards. 

Wednesday, 2 March 2011


In the past few weeks I have let go of 91 magazines. Here's a stack of some of my discards that I am giving to a friend. My studio is feeling rather spacious and clean these days. Spring cleaning came early this year!


A few months ago I was almost hit by a flower delivery van. The driver was talking on his cell phone while he was turning a corner and came within an inch of hitting me. I'm a careful pedestrian but given how much I walk, I've had a few too many close calls. Drivers just don't pay close enough attention. So, now I wear a safety vest when I'm walking, just to be certain that I am as visible as possible. The reflective safety vest is ugly but very effective. It is also a conversation starter. I've been asked if I am a: 

  1. parade marshall
  2. police officer
  3. construction worker
  4. film crew member
  5. crossing guard
  6. hiking trail minder
  7. by-law officer
  8. cyclist
  9. beat cop
  10. porch builder
  11. SPCA officer
  12. Body guard for Stephen Page
Now if only the safety vests were more attractive! Stay safe dear readers.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011


Ohne Titel 1 by Karen Thiessen © 2011
Mackenzie Frere over at ArtClothText has a nice post about some of my new work. Check it out. Thanks Mackenzie!
Ohne Titel 2 by Karen Thiessen © 2011