Thursday, 29 December 2011

Snow globe

Today we had our first snow that required shovelling! My seven-year-old niece Mia made this card for me for Christmas. She loves snow globes, eating meat, and making crafts. Homemade gifts are the best.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Studio Series: Red: Confidence

Red: Confidence © Karen Thiessen, 2000 Photo Credit: Julian Beveridge
A visit by my art hero Sandra Brownlee to my Halifax studio in the summer of 2000 gave Red: Confidence its name. I had just finished taking this quilt off the frame and Sandra sat on my cool studio floor with it in her lap. She said it felt like armour. Armour provides protection; protection gives confidence. 

This is another of my favourite quilts. I painted many of the fabrics with screen-printing inks. Some of the fabric comes from the corduroy pillows that my mom sewed for their family room in the 1970s. This quilt was in The New Spirit of Ontario, an exhibition held at the offices of the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario at Queen's Park in Toronto in 2001. At the opening I met L.G. Hilary Weston. I was allowed to invite one person to accompany me to a private reception where we exchanged a few pleasantries and shook hands. My mom, a former politician, was thrilled to meet her and I was thrilled for my mom. The quilt made it into Hilary Weston's speech which was aired on television and into the National Post.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Postcard: Stephen Hender

Pisa, Italy 
While in university, I had little money for extras but I still needed beauty and inspiration. This image taken by Stephen Hender in Pisa, Italy provided both and has brought me much comfort and pleasure over the years since those lean student days. 

Monday, 26 December 2011

Quotes: Arthur Schopenhauer

"Boredom is just the reverse side of fascination: both depend on being outside rather than inside a situation, and one leads to the other." – Arthur Schopenhauer, German Philosopher, 1788-1860

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Books: Nancy Crow

Since today is the first day of Winter, I thought it would be appropriate for Nancy Crow's joy-drenched quilts to brighten your day. Early in her career, Nancy Crow made elaborate quilts that required templates and fussy piecing. Just looking at them made me tired: I couldn't imagine the amount of patience required to design and make each quilt. Thankfully Nancy Crow's inordinate patience wore off and she began to dye her own fabrics and to piece quilts intuitively. The new work is peaceful and engaging. This book was published in 2006 and is still available from the US Amazon site. 

An ideal evening is to dig out this book, along with my Gee's Bend and Lance Letscher books and to absorb the images just before going to bed, so that my dreams are infused with colour and pattern.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Studio Series: Before & During Collages III

Original Collage, 2008
Final collage, October 2011 © Karen Thiessen 2011
Of my Before and During Collages, this is my favourite to date. I'm thinking of digitally printing it on fabric so that I can use it in a textile project. My autumn project of resolving old collages was successful– I fixed over 20 collages and recycled a few. I'm now making new "bad" collages to give me something to amend the next time I need to "prime the pump." 

It just occurred to me that few of you know what priming the pump means. To prime the pump means to add liquid to a pump to expel the air so that it works. Long ago, you would add a cup of water to a water pump so that the pump would draw up the water from a well. I remember adding water to the top of the old farm pump, the feel and smell of the iron handle in my hand, and how as the water came up, it would be harder to pump, the thrill that I had when water gushed from the spout of this old technology, and finally the smell of my hand afterwards (an iron smell). Nowadays priming the pump means to do something in order to make something succeed.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Postcards: Kathleen Weich

The above Kathleen Weich postcard is a 2004 Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition find. This series of paintings was inspired by the Gee's Bend quilts, which at the time were taking the art world by storm. Oh how I wish I could have afforded one of these paintings, but my hubby and I were only into year three of an interminable house renovation. That's what we get for buying the worst house in a nice neighbourhood. Naturally, Weich has moved onto other painting subjects, but I still yearn for one of these beauties.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Love by Mail

Canada Post service is irregular these days. I'll go an entire week without mail and then receive it twice in one day. This surprise arrived in a second mail delivery in the early evening (It is odd to get mail at night!). My friend Sal and her daughter Sophie felted this brooch just for me and I love it! When I wear the brooch, I'm carrying the love of my friends over my heart. My hubby says that the brooch and the card look like a nebula in a field of stars. Handmade gifts are the best.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Books: The Quilts of Gee's Bend

In 2003 I was an artist-in-residence in the textile studio at Harbourfront, which was a hub of activity and opportunity. One opportunity for which I am grateful was an invitation to take a private workshop with some of the ladies of Gee's Bend fame. We were a small group that gathered in the costume studio for Mirvish productions and I lucked into being Mary Lee Bendolph's workshop assistant. She is a natural storyteller and I was all ears. After the workshop I high-tailed it to David Mirvish Books where I bought this The Quilts of Gee's Bend book and soaked in a small exhibit of Gee's Bend quilts. Whether you are a graphic designer, an architect, or a textile artist, this book will inspire. Beyond the gorgeous colour images, the women's stories are engaging and occasionally heart-breaking.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Studio Series: Before & During Collages II

December 2008 Original collage
November 2011 Amended collage in progress
The tricky thing about working on old collages is that the layers build up to the point that the pieces become lumpy. To take the bottom collage any further, I'll need to scan it, print it on good paper, and then add more layers. Sure, I could play with it in Photoshop but I like the physicality of sorting through my papers, cutting them up, using my UHU gluestick to adhere the next paper fragment to the collage, and then covering it with a piece of waxed paper and rolling over it with my acrylic brayer. If you look closely at the bottom image, you can still see some traces of the original collage. The top collage is from December 2008 and the last time I touched the bottom collage was in November 2011.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Postcards: Quilts from Gee's Bend

Are you one of the lucky folks who have seen the Gee's Bend quilts in person? One day I would love to see the full exhibition if it continues to travel North America. In the meantime, I have fond memories of meeting three of the quiltmakers (I can't remember which of the four couldn't make it to the Toronto opening), assisting Mary Lee Bendolph in a workshop, and seeing a small exhibit at the now closed David Mirvish Books.

Friday, 9 December 2011


The Christmas season is my least favourite time of year and I have learned that this is when I most need to practice self-care. For me this means taking a 45 minute walk during my lunch hour, reading mystery novels in the evening, eating healthy food, and practicing yoga every day. Self-care also means digging into studio work, journalling, and good visits with friends and family balanced by solitude. Practicing self-care is not indulgent: it allows me to be a better friend, partner, sister, daughter, community member, and artist. How do you take care of yourself?

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Books: Lance Letscher Collage

Lance Letscher Collage is a thick, gorgeous book generously stocked with large colour photographs and a few secrets tucked here and there. I've had this book for a few years and it continues to give me immense pleasure. Whenever I need a hit of high voltage inspiration, I pull this out along with my Gees Bend and Nancy Crow quilt books. Letscher's collages read partly as paintings, partly as textiles. Given the density of this book, the low price is another treat. What art books inspire you?

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Studio Series: Before & During Collages

In order to dive back into my full studio practice after a summer of distraction, I needed to "prime the pump." This meant that I cleaned, organized, purged, and gave my attention to unfinished projects. In my flat file I found a pile of early collages from 2005 to 2008. Most were rough. Okay, they were bad. Bad collages offer something to respond to, so I did. The top collage was from January 25, 2007 and I cleaned it up in November 2011. What's great about working on old collages is that there is no blank slate to paralyze me. Since the work is already bad, there's no risk. No risk = no fear (a.k.a. resistance). If it doesn't still doesn't work after some tweaking, I can cut it up and rearrange it, or I can toss it into the recycle bin. Attacking old work is the best way to ease or dive back into a studio practice. How do you deal with resistance?

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Postcards: Adam Gibbs Tjapaltjarri

It's that time of year where I seek images of comfort. This postcard has been with me fourteen years and I carry it wherever we move. 1997 found us living in Singapore. Singapore is a major travel hub, so naturally we travelled to Australia, Bali, Malaysia, and Thailand. We landed in Sydney at the tail-end of a hot spell. For us Canucks, it was still waaaay too hot. Eight days in Sydney gave us a much-needed break from the chaos and noise of Singapore. We found a lovely Bed-and-Breakfast in Balmain, a charming suburb of Sydney. Balmain and nearby Rozelle offered small town friendliness with city amenities. Along the main street in Rozelle, I found this postcard. Aboriginal art exudes soul, connection, mindfulness. If I were patient enough to meditate, I would focus my attention on this image. Perhaps just taking it in is a form of meditation.

In case you are curious, this painting depicts "Men's Ceremonial site at a rockhole near Lake MacDonald" by Papunya Tula artist Adam Gibbs Tjapaltjarri of the Western Desert. Craig Lamotte photographed the painting.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Quotes: Mary Oliver


It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

– Mary Oliver, Thirst, 2006

Friday, 2 December 2011

Books: The Elements

This book is proof that I really really love my husband. And that I can't keep a secret from him. A smart person would buy this as a birthday or Christmas gift. Noooo, not me. My guy is a science and math geek and I knew that he wanted this book the moment our nephew showed it to him. When it arrived in the mail I considered hiding it until Christmas, but I was too excited to wait to see his surprise and obvious pleasure. On cool evenings you'll find us sitting in our cosy family room in front of a fire. Hubby will be reading about the periodic table of elements and I'll be reading an art or design book. Yes, each in our own way, we are nerds.