Friday, 29 July 2011

Zigzag afghans

Baby, it's hot outside! So, what am I doing dreaming of candy-coloured zigzag afghans? We finally have heat and humidity and I'm being a team-player with this whole summer thing--after all, we only have heat for about two or three months of the year. As a redhead, I prefer cooler weather, but I'm being a good sport, OK? This doesn't stop me from fantasizing about curling up under this happy afghan. Last winter I even bought some yarn to teach myself how to crochet. It's possible that I may even get the hang of it to make a zigzag scarf, but I may not have the patience to make a large afghan. I'm waiting for cooler weather to go back to learning how to crochet. My wise sister-in-law has a rule not to "poach" on her seasonal hobbies: no knitting in summer for her! Smart rule.

Thursday, 28 July 2011


We've come along way from the days when redheads were ostracized. Now we glorify red hair and women are dyeing to have it (sorry, I couldn't resist throwing that pun in!). My mom, dad, brother and I were all born with it, as was one of my nieces. The predictions that red hair will become extinct may be far-fetched given that the gene is recessive and can express itself in families where neither parent has red hair: it sneaks up on a family when they least expect it. To my delight, it's happened to three couples that I know. Long live the sneaky red hair gene!

Famous redheads: Queen Elizabeth I of England, Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gables), Lucille Ball, Julianne Moore, and Nicole Kidman.

Great song: Redhead Walking by REM

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Free-motion embroidery connections

A dozen years ago, my NSCAD professor Robin Muller gave me a bag of small indigo-dyed scraps leftover from an antique kimono that she was repurposing. Until a week ago, they were too precious to use. Then, BAM!, I knew how I would use them. Last week I returned to doing free-motion embroidery (FME) after a two-year hiatus. When I haven't FME'd for a while, I need to warm up to remember how to coordinate needle speed and hand motion for optimal results. Inspiration struck while I was in warm-up mode stitching old hand-painted fabric from my stash. After ditching the practice fabric, I reassembled every single bit of kimono fabric using FME on the base of an old dress shirt. Some of the bits were smaller than my pinky fingernail. To my surprise, the small bag of scraps yielded two tags and two pieces of reconstituted fabric that I'll probably cut up once I've had a chance to think about how to use it. For now, it's back to being precious.

The warm-up FME on painted fabric inspired me to piece the kimono scraps, and the pieced kimono scraps inspired me to begin another project that is top-secret until I work out the details. All I can say is that I'm excited about the new TSP (top secret project) and to see where it will lead me next.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Postcards: Evelyn Kelch

Evelyn Kelch seems to do no wrong. Her simultaneous facility for collage, photography, and graphic design astonish me. If money were no object, I would have bought at least four photographs from her 2010 found in downtown Dundas exhibition at the Carnegie Gallery. Whether creating stark collages from snippets of magazines or showing us her world through a camera lens, Evelyn has a well-honed eye for detail. I've now seen three exhibits of her collages and one show of her photography. I think it's time for another photo exhibit, although I heard that she may be returning to the technique in which she was trained: sculpture. Whatever she does, it will be great.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Quotes: Cage + Berkun

"Art instead of being made by one person is a process set in motion by a group of people." -- John Cage

"It's easy to forget that the innovations we use are comprised of a series of smaller innovations. However, making new things requires taking apart other things and learning from the pieces. Sometimes inventors even work the other way, developing breakthroughs by deliberately experimenting with existing innovations." -- Scott Berkun, The Myths of Innovation, p. 78*

*If you are interested in creativity, innovation, and ideas, I highly recommend reading Berkun's books and his blog.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Family gifts

In my frugal Mennonite family very little goes to waste. When relatives clean out their closets I am the beneficiary of their unwanted textile supplies. My grandmothers, my mom, and many of my aunts are (or were) gifted in the needle arts. Even my Opa (grandfather) got in on the act and hooked rugs. Some work(ed) from kits, others design(ed) their own projects. To date, I have received sewing notions from a cousin, three aunts and my two late grandmothers, and I put them all to good use. When I am stitching with floss from Erika, Hilda, Edna, Irene, Katja, or Helen, I think about them and am grateful that they are part of my work. I'm also mindful that my hands are using notions that they once touched. It's corny, but true.

Aunt Irene gave me the colourful nest in the top photo and aunt Hilda's floss is in the bottom three pictures. Aunt Hilda wrapped leftover floss from cross-stitch kits around carefully cut and labelled cardboard. When I've used up the floss, I'll incorporate the cardboard in future collage projects. As I said, very little goes to waste. If you look closely at the bottom two pictures, you'll see that one of her projects was done close to Christmas, because the leftover floss is wrapped around sections cut from a Marzipan box. Thanks to my relatives, I haven't bought embroidery floss in a long time.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

TOAE 2011: Christopher Hayes

Bread tags are awesome, especially when they are gigantic. Christopher Hayes creates assemblages from old stuff, paint, imagination, and a sense of humour. A photograph of a larger-than-life bread tag by a NSCAD student in the late 1990's woke me up to the possibilities of ordinary, often forgettable, objects. I've been collecting bread tags for a few years now, but my collection is small considering that we rarely have bread in the house. Once in a while a kind friend will give me her stash. It's fun to see all the various shapes, colours, and fonts that differentiate the common bread tag. Christopher Hayes's bread tag sculptures are about 3 feet square. 

One day I would love one of these, along with one of Joanna Strong's rubber band ball paintings. Wouldn't they look perfect hung next to each other?

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

TOAE 2011: Erin Vincent

At the recent Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition, Erin Vincent's collages, assemblages, and mixed media art grabbed my attention immediately. Erin repurposes old photos, buttons, yardsticks, security patterns from envelopes, and other bits and bobs into your next obsessions. Collage and assemblage with vintage materials can be overly sentimental and twee, but thankfully Erin Vincent does not cross that line. I especially liked her spare mixed media work, as seen in the upper right quadrant of the second image. I hope to see her work again at the next TOAE.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Postcards: Lizz Aston

Last year I picked up Lizz Aston's postcard at the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition. The other day while checking out the Love Lace exhibition line up at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia I noticed that  Noelle Hamlyn and Lizz Aston are both representing Canada. I've been looking at this postcard for a year and only when I checked out Aston's website did I learn that the burn-out multiples are paper muffin cups!! They are from a series called collaboration and I'm delighted with Aston's transformation of an ubiquitous, ephemeral material into a work of art. Lizz Aston is another artist to watch.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Quotes: Horvitz + Murakami

"Do something everyday, regardless. Nothing will happen unless you first initiate a process of cause and effect. This starts with an action. Reawaken the possibility of possibility. Reawaken it with play." 
-- David Horvitz

"No matter how mundane some action might appear, keep at it long enough and it becomes a contemplative, even meditative act."
-- Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir, page vi.

Friday, 15 July 2011

TOAE 2011: Dave Hind

Dave Hind is a thingmaker: it says so on his business card. He sculpts and paints with reclaimed metal-- riveting, grinding, and welding it until the images or forms take shape. Dave is also a super nice guy. Above are images of his aluminum works. The top and bottom images are overall shots and the three images sandwiched in between are details. Dave uses reclaimed aluminum siding, dog tags, trophy plaques, and other metal scraps with unlikely beginnings. You can see part of a trophy plaque in the red detail. The next time you are getting rid of all your dusty old bowling trophies, remember that Dave will put them to good use.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

TOAE 2011: Noelle Hamlyn

I've been following Noelle Hamlyn's career for a few years, so I was pleased to get to know her a bit when we took the Sandra Brownlee workshop in June and then see her again at the TOAE. Noelle is smart. She understands the importance of multiple streams of income in an art career and sells two lines of work: her one-of-a-kind artwork and her pocket book purse production work. The above images are of her artwork in her booth at the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition. The artwork is made with gampi, a thin strong Japanese paper that she embroiders, burns, spins, and weaves. It's exquisite, subtle work that invites the viewer to look closely. 

This month, Noelle will be off to Sydney, Australia for the opening of Love Lace, an international group exhibit at the Powerhouse Museum. 

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

TOAE 2011: Amanda McCavour

Amanda McCavour installation "Scribble" at the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition 2011. 
Now that I have whetted your appetite with the post featuring Amanda McCavour's postcard and business card, here are shots of her installation of Scribble at the TOAE. I'm curious about two things: 1) How many "scribbles" did she make and install? 2) Does she still like the colour orange? OK, although I do get tired answering this question for my own work, I just have to ask: How long did it take to make all the units and how long did it take to install?

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Postcards: Amanda McCavour

Amanda McCavour is a master of free-motion embroidery. She draws her kitchen, her living room, snowflakes, spirograph circles, hands, people, and a steam pump: all with thread. Her thread drawings are rendered using lots of thread, a sewing machine and water-soluble fabric. The top image is her postcard that I picked up at the 2011 Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition and features Scribble, an installation of free-motion embroidered spirograph-type patterns that she then stiffened and installed. Her beauty of a business card features Glitter Beginnings, an installation that fills you with sheer joy just looking at it. McCavour is represented by Lonsdale Gallery in Toronto.

Monday, 11 July 2011

TOAE 2011

With the exception of one year, I have attended every Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition that has been held since 2001 (it was cancelled one year due to a garbage strike). Every year the weather gods offer up a medley of high winds, torrential rain, and oppressive heat. Thankfully this year was different: only sunny skies and reasonable July heat. Normally the TOAE is a large, sprawling event at Nathan Phillips Square in front and beside Toronto City Hall. This year the TOAE was reduced by 30 to 50 percent due to construction. The smaller, tighter show did not disappoint: it offered a mix of artists new to the show and seasoned TOAE artists. The condensed format felt fresher than previous years. As much as I appreciate many of the artists who have showed at the TOAE for years on end, it was good to see more new artists. Next year, when the construction is completed, more of the long-term artists will be back, and that will be good too: after all, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Quotes: Monk + Wainwright

M  i  s  t  a  k  e  s

"I made the wrong mistakes." 
-- Thelonious Monk, American jazz pianist and composer after a disappointing performance

"A mistake is the most beautiful thing in the world. It is the only way you can get to some place you've never been before. I try to make as many as I can. Making a mistake is the only way you can grow." 
-- E.W. Wainwright, drummer (conversation with Nathaniel Klemp, 2001)

Friday, 8 July 2011

Sun prints

 Sunprint Doily 1© Karen Thiessen 2011
Summertime is perfect for making cyanotypes. I bought a Sunprint kit, gathered some objects and let the sun do its thing. Through experimentation I discovered the ideal time of day to do the sun prints. Flat objects print well regardless of the angle of the sun, but to avoid distortion three-dimensional objects print best between 11:30 am and 1 pm when the sun is highest in the sky. The doily that I used for this print was very thin and allowed some light to pass through its fibres, thus resulting in a subtle print. Opaque objects like keys give a high contrast print. The kit that I purchased is geared towards children so the paper quality is poor and curls when rinsed, but is fine for experimentation and scanning the results. 

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Video: Nuria Mora

Nuria Mora's artwork on the cover of the January 2011 ARTnews brightened my winter. This was the first I had heard about this Madrid-based artist so I was pleased to see the above video on the Poppytalk blog. Nuria Mora's street art humanizes and beautifies city streets. It's ironic that in many cities "uncommissioned" street art is illegal and yet more compelling than the mind-numbing billboards that proliferate in those same places. 

If you are a sketchbook devotee, check out Nuria Mora's website, specifically her black book in the Drawings section.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Cy Twombly: 1928-2011

Cy Twombly, Quattro Stagioni: Autunno, (1993-5) via Tate Modern

Cy Twombly, thank you for bringing beauty and wonder to this world. 

Robin Redbreast

A few weeks ago I hung out with this adolescent robin and was surprised that he trusted me enough to get close. I looked at him for several minutes, went inside to fetch my camera, and then spent another five minutes with him. Eventually he decided that we had bonded enough and flew off. I did some research and learned that this young robin has only a 25% chance of making it to the beginning of November of his first year. Domestic cats, squirrels, chipmunks, hawks, crows, blue jays, owls, and raccoons are some of the predators that may eat him for breakfast. 

Do you remember this nursery rhyme?:
Little Robin Redbreast
Little Robin Redbreast sat upon a tree,
Up went pussycat and down went he,
Down came pussycat, and away Robin ran,
Says little Robin Redbreast, "Catch me if you can."

Little Robin Redbreast jumped upon a wall,
Pussycat jumped after him and almost had a fall.
Little Robin chirped and sang, and what did pussy say?
Pussycat said, "Meow," and Robin flew away.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Postcards: Harold Klunder

I confess that until I saw Harold Klunder's 2009 exhibition of vibrant watercolours at Transit Gallery, I wasn't a fan of watercolour paintings. My previous associations with them were bland, fussy, washed-out paintings. When I saw Klunder's work and realized they were watercolours, I did a double-take and found myself returning to the gallery several times to take it in, and then seeing the show again with a friend. I had no idea that watercolour could be so bold, exuberant, and loose. Seeing this show inspired me to pull out my cheap drugstore watercolours, purchased when I was in grade ten, and play. Klunder makes it all look so effortless, but it's not.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Quotes: Lipsey + Oliver

"Art making is a discipline of mind, heart, and hand. Potentially sacred, potentially linked to deep levels in oneself. It is a path of entry into profound contact with nature and a means of belonging here and now to what one sees, feels, and records with one's brush. It is a way."
-- Roger Lipsey, Angelic Mistakes: The Art of Thomas Merton

"I think the material has its own intelligence. Individuals seek out the technique they need to accomplish what they want to do, but what I have to teach is how to go back to your own studio and work out of your own impulses and know that you don't have to know how to do something before you start. The material will talk to you and tell you what to do and lead you. You do something, it does something."
-- Betty Oliver, in "Teaching the Craft of Freedom," Fall 2009 article by Robin Dreyer in the Penland Line.