Friday, 29 April 2011

Quotes: Eliot + Emerson

"In order to arrive at what you do not know
    You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
    You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
    You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not."
-- T.S. Eliot, East Coker, part 3

"All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. What if they are a little coarse, and you may get your coat soiled or torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice? Up again, you shall never be so afraid of a tumble."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Eye Candy: Paul Cvetich sculptures

Paul Cvetich: Butista  acrylic, alkyd oil on wood 2010-2011
Paul Cvetich: Familia acrylic, alkyd oil on wood 2010-2011
Paul Cvetich: Fulton acrylic, alkyd oil on wood 2010-2011
Our Canadian Winter has inched its way into what is normally Spring and many of us need colour and sunlight. The Spring flowers are reluctant to bloom and rain is forecast for the next week or three. Paul Cvetich's solo show Ichikupark at Transit Gallery in Hamilton, Ontario has come to the rescue. The playful wall-mounted sculptures, like eye candy, gladden the eye. According to gallery owner Priti Kohli, Cvetich loosely planned each sculpture before he carved and painted the wood components. The nice thing is that the sculptures don't look over-planned: I think Cvetich gave each sculpture a say in its own evolution. The gallery walls are bursting with forty wall sculptures. A show of 20 to 30 pieces would have been just as strong, but given our long long Winter, 40 pieces make it a party for the eye and spirit.

Beyond the optimistic colours and strong compositions, the shadows cast by the wall sculptures add another dimension to the already successful work. Even a blind person could love this show: the titles are playful and evocative. Just reading them made me smile from ear to ear. Here are a few: Lalalandscape, Fillapango, Chunkeesta, Mambalina, Woolayboolay, Ichikupark, Funkipalunki, Oogabooga, Laboomba, and Moochogoocho are ten titles. Read Stephanie Vegh's review on her blog.

Paul Cvetich Ichikupark: March 29 to April 30, 2011 @ Transit Gallery

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Postcards: Keri Smith

Keri Smith is one of my art heros. During my first trip to San Francisco in 2005, I discovered her book Living Out Loud: Activities to Fuel a Creative Life (2003). Reading a chapter about how she prepared for her 30th birthday inspired me to honour a significant birthday by shaving my head. Hair has always been my way of marking transition. A week after I left a relationship, I had my shoulder-length hair cut short to symbolize my new freedom. When my cousin Heidi was going through chemo and lost her dark curly hair, I had my hair cut very short in solidarity. The significant birthday was a transition worth celebrating. Although my hair has been both longish and short, I had never shaved it all off. A few months before making this plan, my mom revealed that she had always wanted to shave her head but didn't have the courage. Part of my head shave decision was to honour my mom.

An arts writer and a photographer documented the head shave at my hair salon and an article appeared in the local arts paper with before-and-after photos. Without hair, I discovered that I have a beautifully shaped scalp. I also learned that bald heads are cold, even in Spring; that a bald head is like Velcro and sleeping with a flannel pillowcase was difficult. Bus drivers stopped for me, even when I wasn't intending to take the bus (I'm assuming they thought I had cancer). 

Shaving my head was a radical act and I felt bold and confident as I embraced the significant birthday. Would I do this again? In a heart beat... but only during warm weather.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Beehive Steps to Knitting

During my Easter visit with my parents, my mom gave me a bag full of her old knitting needles and this Beehive Steps to Knitting book. In the early 60s mom learned how to knit from this book, and twenty years later I used it to knit a scarf and hat. Check out the haircut in the second picture. At one point in my young life I had bangs like that. My mom's grade one picture reveals this very haircut. Now, here's the most exciting part of this book...
Tucked inside the Beehive book were my crochet instructions from grade 5: the pages still smelled of the chemicals that were used for copying. A bonus is seeing my grade 5 hand-writing once again so many years later. Thanks mom!

Monday, 25 April 2011

Playing with food

The other day I was making a zucchini stir fry. For all my readers in the UK, a zucchini is a courgette. Normally I cut the zucchini into either rounds or quarter-rounds, but on this day I opted for half-rounds. It's amazing how a simple change sparked ideas for pattern designs. Playing with the half-rounds reminded me of the hours I spent as a child arranging and rearranging my Aunt Erika's mosaic puzzle. Aunt E.'s puzzle didn't have half-rounds, and that memory led to another: playing with Froebel blocks in Kindergarten. Recently I watched To Inform & Delight, a documentary about the eminent graphic designer Milton Glaser. In the film, Glaser talked about a poster design where he had printed out elements that he had designed with the computer, cut out the backgrounds, and loosely pasted them down. He was trying to get a feel for the poster. The edges of the elements curled up and he realized that this happy accident worked well. Had Glaser designed the entire poster on the computer from start to finish, the curled edges wouldn't have happened. Computers are useful tools and with them I am able to design things that just wouldn't be possible (with my patience) by hand. That being said, computers can't completely replace the thinking and happy accidents that occur when working with our hands. It's funny how making a zucchini stir fry made me think about mosaic puzzles, Froebel blocks, and a Milton Glaser documentary. Go make something with your hands and see what happens.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Happy Easter!

To all those who celebrate Easter, I wish you a happy Easter! If you aren't an observer of Easter, happy weekend to you!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Fibre with a Difference: Judith Scott

Untitled, 2000-2; 30 by 32 by 16 inches. All works are made from fiber, wood, cardboard, and fabric. Photos courtesy of the Creative Growth Art Center, Oakland, California. Image: Fiberarts Summer 2001

Judith Scott textile sculpture from Compelled to Create Exhibition, 2005
Born deaf and with Down's Syndrome, Judith Scott lived for 35 years in an institution for people with intellectual disabilities until her twin sister Joyce Scott brought Judith to live near her in California. Judith started attending the Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland, California in 1987 where she observed a fibre art class taught by a visiting artist. A fire was lit and from that moment Judith started to use materials in a new way. Her fibre sculptures caught on in the Outsider art world and she exhibited in numerous national and international shows. Books, articles, websites, and a documentary chronicle her remarkable work and life. Judith Scott lived from 1943 to 2005. To view a preview of the documentary Outsider: The Life and Art of Judith Scott, go to this link. Unfortunately the book Metamorphosis: The Fiber Art of Judith Scott: The Outsider Artist and the Experience of Down's Syndrome is out of print and available copies are very expensive.

When I view images of Judith Scott's fibre sculptures, I am in awe of her untainted genius. The work appears chaotic and simple, but I assure you that her work is not as easy to make as it looks: believe me, I've tried. Pablo Picasso once said: "It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child." In her short life as an artist, Judith Scott followed her intuition to create engaging artwork. For many adult artists, we have to re-learn how to listen to and follow our intuition. Until recently, our linear-thinking, left-brained society has had little respect for intuition. In the last few years a slew of books about creativity, ideas, design, and business started touting the benefits of intuition. Wouldn't it be great if our school system and society didn't hammer it out of us?

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Fibre with a Difference: Escama purse

As a textile and mixed media artist with a social conscience, I am drawn to fibre that tells a story. On my first trip to San Francisco, I discovered Escama bags and... I didn't buy one. I'm frugal and I tend to think before I spend. By the time I returned to Canada, the Escama bags were stuck in my head and I could not find them anywhere here in the Great White North. Three years later, on a second trip to San Francisco, I bought one. Months later I found them in several art gallery gift shops in Ontario. Go figure.  

The Escama Studio products include information about their cooperative and the makers. My 'Socorro' purse was made by Rosangela Goncalves and according to the Escama website, Rosangela is a 47 year old mother of two children. The Escama products are handmade using post-consumer recycled aluminum pull-tabs that are hand-crocheted together. According to the product tag, they "are made by the women of Cia do Lacra and As Panteras do Lacre, cooperatives located in Brasilia, Brazil."

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Fibre with a Difference: Africa purse

A few years ago I spotted this purse in an art gallery gift shop and it was love at first sight. My beloved secretly bought the purse as a surprise gift for a significant birthday. What drew me to the purse was the combination of its beauty and the story behind it. Unfortunately no information tag was included with the purse, but what I do remember is that it was made by an African woman in a textile collective of women who live with HIV and poverty. Unfortunately I do not remember the country or the name of the collective. The purse is made of knit copper wire and beads and is lined with satin. This purse is another example of beauty emerging from difficulty.

June 19, 2012 Psst: see the update here.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Fibre with a Difference: Tabiro

Sal gave me this lovely textile for Christmas in 2009 and the gift benefited both me and the woman who made it. The colours, pattern, and stitching all speak to me. Each time I look at it, I discover new details. Sal's friend Mary went to Uganda with cloth and embroidery floss and returned to Canada with textiles embroidered by the Tabiro Ladies Club. The women celebrate beauty, community, and colour through their textiles despite living with the effects of HIV and poverty. Beauty can emerge from difficulty.

This week I'll write about fibre made by people who reside on the margins of society. Some of the makers live with HIV AIDS, poverty, and/or intellectual disabilities. Despite the challenges, the resulting work is engaging and inspiring.

Friday, 15 April 2011


Spring is here (my fingers are crossed as I write this). Weather is fickle here in the Great White North and we could still have snow. The daffodils are up but not yet in flower; croci are blooming their hearts out. Birds and squirrels are building nests as they prepare for yet another cycle of reproduction. Life goes on. I wish you all a happy Friday and a great weekend!

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Video: Renate Hiller

Recently I discovered Renate Hiller's powerful video about thinking and making with our hands. I think with my hands: it's a kinaesthetic thing. When I need to understand an unfamiliar concept, thought or feeling, I often write it out by hand, so that I can feel it. When I want to understand how an object is made, I draw it or attempt to make it. 

Recently I bought yarn, crochet hooks, knitting needles, and a basic crochet and knitting how-to guide to relearn how to crochet and knit. With a lot of trial and error, I am beginning to remember what I once knew. My grade 5 teacher taught me how to crochet and five years later my mom taught me how to knit using her colourful 1960's plastic knitting needles. My new knitting needles do the job, but I am missing my mom's knitting needles and the good memories embedded in them.

Knitting and crocheting are meditative in their repetition. Recently I read that teaching a child with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) how to knit helps calm the child enough that he/she can concentrate. Here's a link about knitting in classrooms and another link about knitting and mindfulness. Although I don't have ADHD, I find that I am able to listen better if I have something in my hands. So I draw during church, and stitch, knit, and crochet while watching DVDs.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Postcards: Christopher Moore

Christopher Moore's postcard for his MFA Thesis Exhibition for love or money at NSCAD's Anna Leonowens Gallery in April 1999 has been pinned to my studio wall for years. I shared a studio with a cluster of MFA Textiles students and Christopher was a regular visitor. In Fall 1998 he taught a course called Conceptual Illustration and if I could invent a time-machine and step back to August 1998, I would sign up for the course. Somehow I thought that as a Textiles/Craft History student I couldn't take the class, but I was soooo wrong. At the end of the course the students had an exhibition of their work and the results were delicious. I imagine the class was a Martin Venezky meets Keri Smith with a hint of John Cage kind of affair. The other day I was pleased to learn that Christopher currently holds the position of Assistant Professor in Design and Computation Arts at Concordia University. He has a few websites under construction and this one features his impressive C.V. The Concordia program sounds pretty darn impressive. Yay Christopher!

FYI: The quatrefoil shape on the left consists of rings of human hair that Christopher made from donated NSCAD students' hair. He installed rings of hair around the upper walls of the gallery. It was stunning and memorable.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Tools: Drawing Template

An isometric ellipses drawing template was among the goodies that Bob and Michelle dropped off. When I set my eyes on this emerald beauty I immediately thought of my ongoing drawing experiments inspired by the class assignments that Martin Venezky gives his students, specifically how student Nazgol Ansarinia used a shower drain as a drawing tool with truly inspiring results. Really, if you haven't read the book by now, you must. In the middle picture are seven of my 2" square day in and day out template drawings on top of a larger version.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Books: Boro

In 2007, the Textile Museum of Canada hosted The Bluesan exhibit curated by Patricia Bentley. John Alexander, the brilliant TMC Shop "curator" brought in some Japanese Boro in conjunction with the exhibit. I had only seen pictures of Boro in books and the actual textiles were gorgeous beyond words. I imagined all of the hands that had dyed the thread, woven the fabric, kept the scraps, and mended the clothing. In the bottom picture is the Boro fragment that came home with me. It is a Noragi (farmer's coat) sleeve from the late nineteenth century (Meiji Period, 1868-1912). Basically, I bought a beautiful rag.
Last summer I discovered Yoshiko Wada's online bookstore and ordered this Boro book. The pictures and accompanying text provide a satisfying read and helped me to better understand the original context of my beautiful rag. Boro were made during difficult times. My thoughts are with the people of Japan as they recover from the devastating earthquake. May beauty emerge from this tragedy.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Letraset Love

The funny thing about my clear-outs is that many of my friends, family and colleagues are doing the same thing. So, my unwanted stuff makes its way into new appreciative hands and in turn their stuff comes my way. My friends Bob and Michelle are talented musicians, designers, and artists. Michelle was the happy recipient of a stack of 51 textile journals plus a few vintage suitcases. When she told me that she and Bob had a few things for me, I didn't expect that it would require several trips between their car and my front door. This box of vintage Letraset was among the treasures. Aaaaaack!!! I love Letraset and I can't wait to put it to use. 

What I appreciate most about these exchanges is that we "get" each other. As creative folk, we understand how a particular font, template, object, or book would thrill the other person. To those who don't know or "get" us, we are unique creatures. It's a wonderful thing to "get" someone and appreciate his or her idiosyncrasies.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Happy accidents

"Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep." -- Scott Adams, The Dilbert Principle

I was turning off my camera when I accidently took a picture. The blurring was magnificent. Here's another reason to embrace mistakes and happy accidents.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011


A dear neighbour and colleague died last Fall. Leslie was in the prime of her life before cancer cut her down. She was a wife, mother, textile artist, champion of local libraries, fierce advocate for social justice, environmentalist, and so much more. We were like a Venn diagram: we knew each other through so many over-lapping social circles. Somehow Leslie learned that I collect used elastic bands, preventing them from entering bird gullets and garbage dumps. Every few months she would deposit a bag of elastics in my mailbox. The other day her husband dropped off another bag with a note saying that Leslie had intended to drop them off herself. 

Since 2005, I have been building two elastic balls entirely from used elastics. The one above is heavy and unwieldy with a diameter of 9 inches and is made up of 6666 elastics. At least a good third of this ball is thanks to Leslie. I'll think of her and her remarkable life as I add her final bag of elastics to this ball.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Oops! I did it again: more Marimekko love

The other day my studio clock died which forced me to go to the dreadful mall. This mall is a large conglomeration of stores complete with three big department stores. Could I find a simple clock? No. In this huge mall I found clocks in only two stores and what I found was big and ugly. The next day I pounded the streets of Toronto and visited a favourite Kensington Market store: The Good Egg on Augusta. Surely a kitchen store would carry simple kitchen clocks. Nope. But, I did stumble upon these gorgeous Marimekko napkins and I couldn't resist. Basically this a a pattern that I draw in my sketchbook when I am trying to listen to the sermon in church. The pattern is called Vellamo and according to the Marimekko website, they are new for Spring 2011. The napkins are large enough that I could make a pillow out of one of them. We'll see. The next day I did find a clock at IKEA. It was simple and inexpensive. I hope it lasts a very long time.

Monday, 4 April 2011


Today I am nursing a cold that started on the weekend. Since Sunday my diet has consisted of tea and soup. Having a cold is like sitting in church: my activities are limited, so the creative ideas are flowing like Niagara Falls. Over the weekend I devoured a book of short stories by Amy Bloom called Where the God of Love Hangs Out. The writing is crisp and clear and Bloom covers a lot of ground in two sets of linked short stories: "William and Clare" and "Lionel and Julia." What grabbed me was how the intervals between each of the linked stories was integral. This reminds me of a Kahlil Gibran poem about marriage from his book The Prophet. Here are two excerpts: 

"But let there be spaces in your togetherness."... "And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow." -- Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

I mostly read non-fiction, but I'm in a short story frame of mind. I like how the exquisite writing tickles my brain. Being sick has its benefits.

Rumi: Daily practice

Submit to a daily practice.
Your loyalty to that
is a ring on the  door.

Keep knocking, and the joy inside
will eventually open a window
and look out to see who's there.


Friday, 1 April 2011


"May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done." -- A Franciscan blessing

Today is April Fools' Day here in North America. I wish you the best kind of foolishness as exemplified in the above quote!