Monday, 31 October 2011

Quotes: Walsch + Brezsny

"Life begins at the end of your comfort zone." 
– Neale Donald Walsch, American author

"Clean the hell out of everything in your life and throw away all the stuff that's dead to you." 
– Rob Brezsny, Sept. 11, 2008 Free Will Astrology

Friday, 28 October 2011

Your Eyes

Your Eyes © Karen Thiessen 2009
Halloween is just around the corner and this weekend some of you will be donning costumes and adopting an alter ego to mark the occasion. I wish you all a safe and fun weekend!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Cover Girl

1 in 6: Hunger © Karen Thiessen 2010; Photo credit Annemarie Rogalsky, special to Canadian Mennonite
Looky, looky: my work made it on the cover of the Canadian Mennonite! I wrote about 1 in 6: Hunger here. Gee, I've never been a cover girl before. I like how the photographer shot the work at an angle. An excerpt from the text: "Thiessen's piece had viewers wondering, 'What do tires and barcodes have to do with justice and food?'" This is good, the work was meant to make people think how North American consumption affects food availability and security for those living on the margins here and around the world.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Studio series: Forgiveness #4

Forgiveness #4 © Karen Thiessen, 1999; Photo credit: Julian Beveridge
Forgiveness #4 may be the only whole cloth quilt that I have ever made. I dyed it using red onion skins from Nova Scotia farmer Ted Hutten and then burned small holes in the cloth and repaired them with fabrics stained with rust and blood. It was in Fibreworks 2000, along with Forgiveness #6. This is also the only textile that I have dyed using red onion skins. The dye liquor was a nice maroon red, so I was surprised that the end result would be a deep gold. It is in the collection of the Cambridge Gallery in Ontario.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Postcards: Susan Szenes

Susan Szenes is a mixed media artist that I have been watching for many years. I was hoping to seeing her work again at the 2011 Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition, but sadly she wasn't there, possibly due to the drastically scaled-down show. I hope she'll be back in 2012. Trained as a graphic designer, she creates contemporary mixed media montages that incorporate found objects and evoke gritty urban environments with planes, cars, travel trailers, highway interchanges, power lines, billboards, and street maps. It works for me and I'm looking forward to seeing more.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Quotes: Kalman

Everything is invented.
Language. Childhood. Careers.
Relationships. Religion.
Philosophy. The future.
They are not there for the plucking.
They don't exist in some natural state.
They must be invented by people.
And that, of course, is a great thing.
Don't mope in your room.
Go invent something.
That is the American message.
Electricity. Flight. The telephone.
Television. Computers. Walking on
the moon. It never stops.

– Maira Kalman, American artist and author

Friday, 21 October 2011

Folded patterns

You never know what will stir the creative juices. This summer I saw a young girl's smocked polka dot dress that led me to draw and then fold 25 patterns... that afternoon. The distorted polka dots grabbed my eye and made me wonder how I could play with the effect. The successful patterns have been pinned to my studio wall all these months and finally I pulled out the Big Camera to photograph them. The bottom two folded patterns are my favourite.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Mailbox Love

The other day I opened my mailbox to find presents. My friend Michelle saw some vintage hankies in an antique store and thought of me. My favourite hankie is this rooster. Isn't he a charmer? Thank you Michelle!

I photographed this hankie using the Big Camera... and since I am still learning (A.K.A. making loads of mistakes) I had to shoot this 3 times before I got it close to OK. Digital photography is miles better for learning than a regular SLR where you take the pictures and then wait days or longer to see whether you have any worthy results. I learned how to change the camera's light balance to tungsten while shooting this with photo lights on a copystand.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Studio Series: Red: Red Star

Red: Red Star © Karen Thiessen; Photo Credit: Julian Beveridge
While making the Red series I was researching my Russian Mennonite history. Four of my great-grandparents and all four grandparents fled south Russia (present-day Ukraine) in the 1920s, and eventually all made it to Ontario. Their stories read like a good suspense novel and I count my lucky stars that they made it out alive (pun unintended). The red star, along with the hammer and sickle, were prominent Soviet symbols at the time. My grandfather, an avid story-teller, described the collective relief that rippled through cattle cars of Mennonites as they passed through the Red Gate from Russia to Latvia. Oh how I wish I had a good detailed photograph of the ornate gate that was a portal to freedom. Once the train passed through the gate, the Mennonites sang Nun Danket Alle Gott (Now Thank We All Our God) in four-part harmony and broke out their rations of roasted Zwieback to celebrate.

I dyed the golden fabrics with onion skins from Nova Scotia farmer Ted Hutten. The background striped fabric was my studio curtain in a previous house. The red star is pieced from rust-stained and painted fabrics and then appliquéd to the densely stitched gold panel. Red Star was exhibited in Red at the Textile Museum of Canada in 2001 and is now in the permanent collection of the Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery. If you wish, you can read more about the Red Series here.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Postcards: The Body Shop

Do you remember this postcard? Ruby, the anti-Barbie made her debut on The Body Shop postcards in 1998. I loved this postcard from the moment I saw it. Read the late Anita Roddick's take on it here.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Quotes: Steve Jobs

"Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things."  – Steve Jobs

"Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something - your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life." – Steve Jobs

Friday, 14 October 2011


Birch © Karen Thiessen 2011
Thanksgiving weekend was a significant anniversary of a family member's death. He's buried at the foot of this birch tree in a quiet corner of a large cemetery. I was very young when he died but he had a huge impact on my life. He's gone but not forgotten.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Downtime in the Sticks

Frog © Karen Thiessen 2011
Grasses in wind © Karen Thiessen 2011
Recently I spent some time hanging out by my parents' pond with the big camera. Mr. Frog posed patiently as I took his portrait with a few different lenses. In the last few days I have learned to change lenses without uttering any choice words and how to play around with the various focussing menus. I still have lots to learn and this is good! 

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Studio series: Doily Sun print

Doily sun print © Karen Thiessen 2011
Now that the weather is changing, I am scanning and processing in Photoshop some of the sun prints that I did over the summer. In each of my photography courses, the biggest highlight was making photograms in the darkroom. Unfortunately, there was little time to do them because each course had its learning modules and darkroom time was precious. The toxic developing chemicals were another drawback.
Seeing Gaye Jackson's photograms of old bottles rekindled my desire to explore cameraless photography and by chance I found Sunprint Kits at Swipe Books in Toronto this summer. The best part of the kits is that no toxic chemicals are required to process the images: paper + objects + sun + water = a print.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Postcards: Hilary Pfeifer

San Francisco was long on my top-ten places to visit list and finally in 2005 I managed my first visit, followed by another in 2008. Aside from the very steep hills, the first thing that I noticed was how very polite and friendly San Franciscans are. When I visit a place, I like to see it in detail, so I spent my entire 10 day visit walking around the city, exploring its every nook and cranny. A favourite gallery is Velvet da Vinci on Hayes Street. Each time I visit, I'm impressed with the exhibitions. I picked up this postcard in 2005. The image is a detail from Hilary Pfeifer's Vertical Garden. I'm a sucker for modular art and recycling. Hilary's mixed media sculptures typically incorporate recycled wood and found objects. All I can say is that they are wonders to behold and they are friendly, just like the folks in San Francisco.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Quotes: Land + Swift

"Don't undertake a project unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible." -- Edwin Land, creator of the Polaroid camera

"Vision is the art of seeing the invisible." -- Jonathan Swift, essayist

Friday, 7 October 2011

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!

Japanese Stewartia flower © Karen Thiessen 2011
It's Thanksgiving weekend in Canada. We are hosting a big extended family gathering, so it'll be busy around here. I wish you all a meaningful Thanksgiving weekend. What are you thankful for?

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Fall is here

Fall is here and I finally feel like a person again. Summer heat makes me feel like a zombie. 

My photos for this blog haven't all been great-- I've been on a learning curve with the blog and with digital photography and lighting. The above photos were taken with the big camera (BC) which until recently I have found intimidating. In my art training, I took more than a handful of photography courses, but they were all with a regular SLR and I took most of them before I married. You may ask, what does marriage have to do with this? Plenty. My guy came into our relationship with two Canon cameras and lots of lenses. I came with an Olympus OM2S and only one lens... so I sold my OM2S. Eventually I left my guy to take the pictures while I made the art. I took on the dusting, he took on the vacuuming (although he would gladly give that up). Our arrangement works well, but I've begun to miss shooting with an SLR. So, I have some BC manual reading in my near future.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Studio Series: Transformation 1

Shadow: Transformation 1 © Karen Thiessen 2008
Shadow: Transformation 1 detail © Karen Thiessen 2008
Shadow: Transformation 1 started off as Singapore #2, but just never looked right. It was a dud, another problem child. During a year living in Singapore, I made three quilts, but only one worked. Singapore #2 sat around for 6 years before I decided to over-dye it (thankfully it's not a huge quilt) with Procion-dyes and then add some appliqué, hand-embroidery, and machine-stitching. Now, Shadow: Transformation 1 is a real beauty.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Postcards: Ella Doran

In 2009, I was in London, UK and my visit coincided with Design Week. At the top of my long list of places to visit was Ella Doran's shop on Cheshire Street. One day I popped by during business hours, but the shop clerk wouldn't let me in because she was prepping the shop for a show. She asked me to return another day. So I did. The second time, another person didn't want to let me in because they were prepping the shop for an opening. I politely explained that I had come all the way from Canada to visit the shop and that this was my second visit. The clerk took pity on me and let me in. I scooped a set of coasters and this postcard. 

Did your mother or home ec teacher show you how to set a proper table? The knife facing away from the plate creates an unexpected tension for me, but I love the postcard regardless.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Quotes: Style

"Style is a natural thing and has nothing to do with taste." – David Bailey

"Style is a simple way of saying complicated things." – Jean Cocteau

"Concision in style, precision in thought, decision in life." – Victor Hugo

"The energy of imagination, deliberation and invention – these are the ingredients of style and all who have it share one thing: originality." – Diana Vreeland

"Style is knowing who you are and not giving a damn." – Gore Vidal