Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Postcards: Think More

Did you know that postcards may soon be extinct? Apparently social media is taking over and galleries and others are skipping the postcard route. Yes, trees will be spared, but the tactile and visual reminder of a favourite show will disappear. Lucky for you, I found an old stash of postcards while I was frantically looking for something else (which I did find too). 

With my limited Adobe Illustrator skills (yes, that again!) I haven't figured out how to make this starburst pattern yet (or whatever it is called). It looks so simple and once I learn more, I'm sure that I'll stumble across the secret to making it. For now, I'm bumbling around in the dark trying to adapt a polar grid to make this with only partial success.

Monday, 30 January 2012


I had a visitor in the laundry room on Sunday. Boris is a big, beautiful, black spider (always avoid alliteration) of an unknown species and family (possibly a Wolf Spider). For now, Boris lives in a jar. I don't know what to feed him other than apple morsels. Boris would probably prefer to eat other insects. Where are they when you need them? He's not exactly a visitor that I want roaming freely around the house, but I'm not yet ready to place him outside in the cold, and I can't bring myself to squish him. He keeps me company while I write and eat my meals.

During our first weeks living in Singapore, a gecko lived in our kitchen. He was a small, translucent creature that brightened my day. One day while wiping down the counter, I slid the toaster sideways. Unfortunately he was underneath it and didn't make it. No other gecko visited us after that. Sigh.

Quotes: Paul Rand

Friday, 27 January 2012

Week 4: Adobe Illustrator

Week four of learning Adobe Illustrator brought new insights and lessons. Today I figured out how to make a flower petal by taking an oval and adjusting the paths. Next week I'll see if I can make an evenly spaced odd-numbered petal flower. I've practiced Adobe Illustrator 12.5 hours over 19 days this month so far.

Natural Dyeing with Avocado Skins

My kitchen smells great these days and it's thanks to my current avocado skin dye bath. I followed this recipe by Gayle Bingham and in the laundry room I have a batch each of skins and pits fermenting in ammonia following this recipe. Normally I don't dye in the kitchen but the Bingham recipe consists of just soaking and simmering the skins over ten days with no chemical mordants. I have no idea whether the avocado skin dye is light-fast or fugitive, so I'll have to test this. I dyed some cotton and some silk in the same bath. When I go to this much trouble (12 days of soaking and simmering) I like to exhaust a bath, so once my first batch of fabric was processed I added more and that's what you see in the pot. Rose-beige is a pleasant colour, so I hope it is light-fast. Once this bath is exhausted I'll soak and simmer a quart of avocado pits. By the second week of February I should have results that I can share with you.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Transition and transformation

This week I'm both completing a second term on a community board and eight consecutive years serving on various boards. One year I was on three boards while my terms overlapped. I love serving on committees and boards with dynamic and diverse people who are committed to making a positive difference in the community. I love the synergy that comes out of nowhere and when a group of very different people work together to make extraordinary things happen. Good things come to an end and I've decided to take a breather from boards and committees and instead work under the radar for a while. I have a few small projects in the works that I am super excited about. In one of his books, Tom Peters talks about taking over neglected areas in organizations and that's exactly what I've started to do. So, I'm in transition and the dusty corner of a certain organization is being transformed, and in the process, so am I. I'll share more as the projects unfold.

The above images are more of my Adobe Illustrator meanderings from last week.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Studio Series: Homage to Claude Tousignant

A funny thing happened last week. Our neighbourhood had a planned three-hour power outage on a cold afternoon, so that the Hydro company could do some upgrading (why they would do this in Winter, I do not understand). No power = no heat or lighting = no studio work. Since I knew about the outage well ahead of time, I scrambled to get as much done in the morning as I could. That morning's Adobe Illustrator learning module involved polar grids. I almost skipped it because it looked boring. I'm glad I didn't because I figured out how to ungroup the circles so that I could colour each one differently (this wasn't part of the learning module, just more curiosity kicking in). 

That afternoon, I visited the Art Gallery of Hamilton where I saw Claude Tousignant's Accelerateur Chromatique. "Hey," I thought, "that's a polar grid!" When I got home I played with approximating his painting in Adobe Illustrator. As I was doing so, I wondered how Tousignant chose the colours and which colours to put next to each other. Claude Tousignant is a Canadian born in 1932. Accelerateur Chromatique, acrylic on round canvas, was painted in 1968.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Postcards: de Young Gallery

I wish I knew if this bookmark was based on a painting in the collection of the de Young Museum in San Francisco. The stripes are wonderful. I picked this up at the de Young in 2008 when the Gilbert and George exhibit was on. Being an artist and on vacation is a tricky thing. If I go to a museum or gallery, I'm in work mode. If I explore a city on foot, I'm in vacation mode and I'm absorbing inspiration indirectly. Both feed me, but if I'm in a place for a short time and the weather is perfect for walking, hanging out in a gallery is a tough sell. Thankfully I had already explored San Francisco in great depth a few years earlier, so visiting the de Young wasn't a hardship. I went for the Gilbert and George show, but what wowed me was the Jane Hammond show, Ruth Asawa's ethereal sculptures on the way up to the Hamon Tower and the grounds of the de Young in Golden Gate Park. If you are in San Francisco and are blessed with rain, check out the de Young and the SFMOMA.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Quotes: Naomi Shihab Nye

So Much Happiness

It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against, 
A wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,
Something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.

But happiness floats.
It doesn't need you to hold it down.
It doesn't need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
And disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
And now live over a quarry of noise and dust
Cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
It too could wake up filled with possibilities
Of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
And love even the floor which needs to be swept,
The soiled linens and scratched records....

Since there is no place large enough
To contain so much happiness,
You shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
Into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
For the moon, but continues to hold it, and to share it,
And in that way, be known.
Naomi Shihab Nye

Friday, 20 January 2012

Week 3: Adobe Illustrator

Hexagon pattern repeat module

My insatiable curiosity (yes, I read ALL the Nancy Drew mysteries when I was a child and my mom accused me of asking too many questions) and perseverance finally paid off. This was the stubborn Japanese hexagon design that I wrestled with last week in Adobe Illustrator. I approached it from many different angles and undid and redid this design at least a dozen times before what finally succeeded was creating the top module and carefully putting it into repeat. My first attempts involved making a grid with 60 degree angled lines. The good thing about failing so often is that I am learning parts of Adobe Illustrator quite well. 

Dave Hind & the Aluminum Quilting Society II

Run, don't walk to see Dave Hind and the Aluminum Quilting Society show at the Mulberry Street Coffeehouse.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Dave Hind & the Aluminum Quilting Society

Occupy Space by Dave Hind, Gord Pullar, Sarah Copoc 
Go West Magnets by Dave Hind, Sarah Copoc, Christeen Urquhart
Detail of Go West Magnets 
Dave Hind, aluminum-whisperer supreme, collaborated with a crew of aluminum-masseurs for a December 2011 to end of January 2012 exhibition at the Mulberry Street Coffeehouse on James Street North in Hamilton. Dave Hind and his fellow artists call themselves the Aluminum Quilting Society and this is a collaboration that works brilliantly. Many of the works sold in December and were replaced with new pieces in January. If you are in the neighbourhood, head on over to the Mulberry, order a coffee and contemplate the art. It's well worth a visit.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Studio Series: Hexagon collage

Hexagons collage © Karen Thiessen 2012
Detail of Hexagons collage © Karen Thiessen 2012 
An education in textile design made its mark on me. Yessiree, I love pattern. While I was a Sheridan student learning about repeat patterns, I started looking at fabric and wallpaper to see if I could find the initial repeat unit (it's been a while and obviously I've forgotten the official lingo). One evening while visiting friends, five adults found ourselves in the master bedroom seeing who could find the repeat element in the new curtains first. That's all that we did, seriously.

An obsession with triangles and hexagons came about by chance. Kristiina Lahde's Shadow of Collapse piece from her Kaleidoscope series grabbed my imagination when I saw it in a group show in 2009 at List gallery in Toronto. The piece continues to inspire me to expand my digital pattern-making skills in Photoshop and Illustrator. Kristiina and I were at Sheridan and then NSCAD together. She studied ceramics at Sheridan and then moved into mixed media at NSCAD. Basically, Kristiina is brilliant and how she approaches her art-making fascinates me.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Postcards: WhizBang Fabrics

WhizBang Fabrics was a cute fabric store in San Francisco's Mission District that closed in March 2009, but the postcard lives on. Stores come and go. What makes one stay in business for a long time, but not the other? The ability to diversify is one key element. Toronto's Workroom has a smart balance of classes, products available on-location and on-line and a super-effective blog. Just looking at the Workroom website makes me dream of one day learning how to pattern draft and sew my own clothes and crochet zigzag afghans. In the meantime, I'll teach myself Adobe Illustrator and learn more about the big camera. 

I'm a sucker for pattern and I see myself learning how to replicate the overlapping circles for an Adobe Illustrator project. 

Monday, 16 January 2012

Quotes: Palahniuk + Nevelson

"Your handwriting. The way you walk. Which china pattern you choose. It's all giving you away. Everything you do shows your hand. Everything is a self-portrait. Everything is a diary." – Chuck Palahniuk, American writer, Diary, 2003 novel

"No matter how individual we humans are, we are a composite of everything we are aware of. We are a mirror of our times." – Louise Nevelson, Russian-born American sculptor (1889-1988)

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Week 2 Adobe Illustrator

January 12, 2012  drawer paper pattern by Karen Thiessen
found drawer paper circa 1970
Curiosity led my Adobe Illustrator learning this week. I worked on two projects: one eventually worked and the other still eludes me. The top image shows my successful interpretation of drawer paper that I found in our old kitchen. The pattern is simple but it took me a few days to figure out how best to create the repeat so that it was evenly spaced. I'm still trying to replicate a standard Japanese pattern. 

My five minutes a day five days a week turned into 5 hours and 25 minutes of Adobe Illustrator play during week 2 = 6.5 H total for 2012. 

Friday, 13 January 2012

Judith Scott at the Museum of Everything video

If you want to see a good representation of Judith Scott's work, check out this video which documents her 2011 solo exhibition at the former Selfridges Hotel in London UK. It's the first time I have seen so much of her work and have seen it 3-D (as much as a conventional video can be 3-D). I've written about Judith here and at the moment it is the most frequently viewed post on this blog. According to the Creative Growth website, it was the largest ever solo exhibition of Judith Scott's work. I wish I could have seen this amazing show in person. In addition to the Selfridges exhibit, there was also a 2011 solo show called Objects Secrets in Paris. The Objects Secrets link has high quality images of the installation.

An update: Creative Growth has a book about Judith Scott for sale in their online shop. Metamorphosis: The Fiber Art of Judith Scott by John MacGregor. The price is reasonable $40.00, but they ship by UPS and the shipping costs are very high.
Metamorphosis - The Fiber Art of Judith Scott: The Outsider Artist and the Experience of Down's Syndrome

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Shake-n-Make at b contemporary

Liss Platt Circular Logic installation, 2011
Liss Platt Circular Logic: Ring 75,  2011 
Claudia Manley & Liss Platt, Relic Series
Claudia Manley, Waikiki Meatballs
This is one of those "better late than never" posts. The Shake-n-Make show at b contemporary has come and gone – it was up in December 2011, but December was a blur. Shake-n-Make is a queer art collective made up of Liss Platt and Claudia Manley. Together they embrace the kitsch DIY ethos of the 1970s with a 21st century twist. Spirograph, Betty Crocker, and gas cans are all fair game. I've written about my appreciation for the work of Liss Platt before. What I want to know is: Did Liss use any digital imaging wizardry to make her Circular logic patterns? I know I would (if I knew how), because it would drive me mad to draw each pattern individually. Shake-n-Make offers brilliant work that makes you laugh.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Studio Series: Tags

In 2009 I stumbled upon my latest work format. I started to integrate collage into my studio practice in 2005 and by 2007 I was ready to combine it with textiles in a modular format. Previously, I had been working with 2 inch square modules in a framed format but soon enough I was ready to work larger than 2 inches and beyond frames when I discovered an old packet of #6 shipping tags. The tags were ideal because they were portable and had their own built-in hanging device. A little more than two years have passed since I started playing with the tag format and now I've made more than 200 of them. Some are collage-based, some are textiles, and some are both in one way or another. This new body of work is ongoing and my passion for it continues to grow despite the occasional question of where it fits in the art world. Since my March 9 post about my tags, I've organized them into families and the whole thing finally has started to make sense. Here is a family that I united this past autumn:
Blue family © Karen Thiessen 2012
Detail of Blue family © Karen Thiessen 2012 

Imagine: Ferguson + Parker

Sixteen Drain Covers, 2006; enamel on canvas; 59" x 59"
(image borrowed from
Wynick/Tuck Gallery)
Imagine if Gerald Ferguson had collaborated with Cornelia Parker.
Gerald Ferguson worked in frottage. Cornelia Parker squashes things. I really do think that they could have made a great collaboration.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Postcards: Grace Loney

Have you ever stood in front of the Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec painting At the Moulin Rouge in the Art Institute of Chicago? It's a huge painting and the first time that I saw it in person, the sight of it brought tears to my eyes. After seeing small copies of painting in art books, seeing the real deal was overwhelming – I felt like I was in the painting. When Grace Loney was planning her painting maze, she wanted people to have the experience of walking through a painting. When I walked through her maze I was brought back to the sensation of being a part of Lautrec's At the Moulin Rouge, only better. Loney's maze travelled from the Glenhyrst in Brantford (2008), to Grimsby, to the Royal Botanical Gardens, and finally to Hamilton's James Street North art district in 2010. It has now been permanently dismantled, but I am left with memories of a visual and kinaesthetic experience of painting.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Quotes: Normal?

"Nobody realizes that some people extend tremendous energy merely to be normal." – Albert Camus

"Why be happy when you could be normal?" – Jeanette Winterson, (title of her 2011 memoir)

"I live life in the margins of society and the rules of normal society don't apply to those who live on the fringe." – Tamara de Lempicka, Polish-Russian artistocrat & painter

"The trouble with normal is it always gets worse." – Bruce Cockburn

"My darling girl, when are you going to understand that 'normal' isn't a virtue? It rather denotes a lack of courage." – Stockard Channing as Frances Owens in Practical Magic

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Week 1 Adobe Illustrator

On Thursday I shared my intention to invest 5 minutes per day, 5 days per week learning Adobe Illustrator. Here's proof that I did something. It's not much, but it is something. What I love about my 5 minutes per day goal is that it is difficult to stop at 5 minutes, but if I do, it is okay. During week one I spent 1 hour and 5 minutes learning the program (relearning the bits that I learned 6 months ago). Another intention is to share one image each week of my Adobe Illustrator progress.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Tea anyone?

Do I have a tea problem? Of the 27 boxes of tea in my cupboard here's a list of the 18 varieties:

  1. Matcha 
  2. Hojicha
  3. Bancha
  4. Kukicha
  5. Spring Jasmine
  6. Raspberry Leaf
  7. Fennel
  8. Wild Fennel
  9. Licorice Spice
  10. Lemon Zinger
  11. Chai Rooibos
  12. Ginger
  13. Wild Sweet Orange
  14. Meyer Lemon
  15. Loose Rooibos
  16. Orange Pekoe
  17. Earl Grey
  18. Loose Jasmine

Last year I swore off buying more tea until I learned that my three favourites (Traditional Medicinals Bancha, Hojicha and Kukicha) were discontinued, so when I found them on sale, I bought out the store's inventory (about 14 boxes).

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Goals vs. Resolutions

Did you make any New Year's resolutions this year? I've never been a resolution-kind-of-gal. Instead, I'm an avid goal setter. In late 2009, I read Leo Babauta's The Power of Less and his book helped me refine my goal-setting process. An interest in cognitive behavioural therapy further enriched my approach. Here's what I've learned: Think about the big picture, but make your goals based on specific incremental behaviours, not the desired end result. For example, if you intend to read that book that has been forever on your goals/resolutions list-- set a goal of just reading one page per day. That's it. It may take a year, but you'll be able to say that you read it. Last year I read some hefty art history tomes this way and I kept a reading log as a bookmark to chart my progress. I did the same with my yoga practice: Since Lent 2011, I have been practicing yoga for a minimum of 15 minutes per day and by the end of the year I had logged 107 hours and 35 minutes on the mat (yes, I also have a yoga log).

Yesterday I spent 5 minutes reacquainting myself with Adobe Illustrator, a program that I am learning from a book. This 5 minutes fuelled the rest of my day – I felt like I had climbed Mount Everest. This year my goal is to spend 5 minutes a day, 5 days a week teaching myself Adobe Illustrator. 

Karen's goal-setting in a nutshell: Think BIG, plan small daily behaviours, log or chart your results.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Swedish Weaving: Dragonfly pattern

Today's post is brought to you by my mom. My mom is a Type-A personality, so naturally her version of retirement is to be as busy as she is able. Two years ago she learned the art of Swedish weaving and now she is churning out afghans and placemats as if there was no tomorrow. In May, we discussed the design and colours of an afghan that mom planned to make for me starting in September. Yah, right. She finished this lovely afghan in August. Do you see what I mean about her Type-A retirement? Mom, you are amazing!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Postcards: Matthew Varey

Toronto-based Matthew Varey possesses painting magic. He mixes secret substances into his paint so that it glows and shimmers. Some of his paintings remind me of the sparkly bumper card seats from my county fair-going childhood. They are lovely and postcards don't do his work justice: they must be seen in person to appreciate their depth. 

Monday, 2 January 2012

Quotes: Bannard

"Art comes from a place that is way deeper than words and ideas and things. It goes out to the same deep place in the viewer. The work itself is the point of contact, the spark that jumps between the poles. It yields a special kind of recognition and pleasure, but it does not submit to rational explication."
– Walter Darby Bannard, American abstract painter. Quote from Artbroken: What Art Is and How We Stopped Making It (2007 talk)