Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Studio Series: Tag panels

Here's proof that Adobe Illustrator has not taken over my studio practice. These are panels on which I stitch the tags and when I am done, I cut them apart and add grommets to the tags.

A curator made a studio visit recently. I've been working on the tags with a blind faith that they are relevant in the art world. The good news is that the curator says they are: they are rich with meaning and detail. The curator generously emailed his thoughts but he's not sure about the grid format. I'm not either, so I've been thinking of other ways to present them. Basically the tags are inspired by the portability of Jennifer Angus' insect installations and Peter Dykhuis' Radar paintings. Shipping my quilts is expensive, awkward, and time consuming. Stored in a large closet, I have a cache of sonotubes for shipping. Any time you ship an irregular shaped package you pay more. Peter can ship a large (modular) painting in a cereal box!!!! So, I solved the shipping problem but created an installation dilemma. The intervals or negative spaces between the tags may be too regular, and thus less interesting, when hung in a grid. I need to think about this and hopefully I'll find a solution without creating more problems. Below are two tag installations that I've featured before on this blog.
Wall of tags
Tags organized into a family

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Postcards: Emily Hermant

I met Emily Hermant in 2004 and immediately knew that she was a rising star. Since I met Emily, she has completed her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and now teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University in the Craft and Material Studies program. This postcard is from her Lies project which she exhibited in Montreal and at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City.

Emily stitched the words onto silk and then dissolved the silk with bleach, leaving just the words. The shadows cast by the text is ethereal.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Quotes: Italo Calvino

"Who are we, who is each one of us, if not a combinatoria of experiences, information, books we have read, things imagined? Each life is an encyclopedia, a library, an inventory of objects, a series of styles, and everything can be constantly shuffled and reordered in every way conceivable." 
– Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millenium, p. 124.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Week 8: Adobe Illustrator

13 Petal Repeat © Karen Thiessen 2012
Ta da!! This week I made a significant breakthrough in my Adobe Illustrator self-education and learned how to make a 13 petalled flower. I made a petal by drawing an oval and adjusting it with the direct selection tool. Using a calculator, I divided 360 by 13 and then copied and transformed each of the petals by 27.69 degrees. I'm sure there's an easier way, but this method got the job done! Next, I'm going to figure out how to make a starburst pattern. Wish me luck.

Paper Folding

As I promised in the Between the Folds post, here are some surreal images of my husband's latest paper folding obsession. Paul Jackson's Folding Techniques for Designers was a good investment.
Photo borrowed from

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Ceramics: Lee Jung-Do

Last weekend I made a special trip to Dundas. Unfortunately I didn't bring my camera, so this postcard will have to do. Lee Jung-Do's show is at the Carnegie Gallery until February 26 and it's well worth a visit. This postcard does not do the ceramics justice. They are heavenly, large, quiet, gorgeous. Their calmness invite the viewer to stay a while, to take in the subtle detail stamped onto their surfaces. This show is worth a special trip to Dundas this weekend.

Avocado pits dye comparison

Here are the two avocado pit dye technique results side to side (using the same muslin fabric). To the left is the ammonia cloth and to the right is the soak and simmer cloth. As you can see the soak and simmer dyed muslin has a slight orange cast. 

I've now mixed the soak and simmer avocado pit and skin baths together, added more tea bags, and may add other natural dyestuffs. Since I've already dyed batches of fabric in the separate baths, I'm free to experiment. I haven't yet decided what to do with the ammonia baths. For now they'll stay in their respective glass jars.
A second batch of avocado skin ammonia dye offered mundane results.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Natural Dyeing: Avocado & Ammonia

Finally I have samples of my avocado pit and skins ammonia dye experiment to share with you. Avocado pits soaked in ammonia yielded a pleasant pink dye. The same method using avocado skins yielded taupe. With this method, I wore safety glasses, a respirator, a splash shield, and chemical gloves to protect myself. Working with ammonia is dangerous and protecting your lungs is essential. 

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Postcards: Alison Bailey Smith

Alison Bailey Smith is the ultimate recycler. Her hats and other wearable art are made from wire reclaimed from television sets and electric motors. I picked up this postcard in Rozelle, Australia (a small suburb of Sydney) in 1997. She is still actively making art and has since moved to England via Guelph, Ontario and San Francisco.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Quotes: Nick Bantock

"For me, synchronicity is a way of confirming the rightness of action. It is only in its absence that I realize I'm out of kilter with, for want of a better term, the collective unconscious." Nick Bantock, The Artful Dodger, p. 163.

* I read The Artful Dodger slowly over several weeks, savouring each chapter. Bantock ends the book with a chapter about words and images that resonated with me – synchronicity at its best. If you are looking for a book about the creative process, this is worth a read.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Week 7: Adobe Illustrator

Week seven brought more failures and successes in my quest to learn Adobe Illustrator. I'm grateful to finally be on the path. The other day I realized that I could be learning a language this way too. I researched Russian Mennonite material culture for four years and had to drop it because my career became too busy. At the time, I wished that I had a better grasp of German. That was fourteen years ago and had I learned a word a day, I'd have a pretty good vocabulary by now. It's never too late.

The repeat element in the above patterns was made using compound paths and the alignment tool. The starburst and 13 petalled flower still elude me. Sigh.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Between the Folds Documentary

We're on a documentary kick here. For Christmas my hubby bought Paul Jackson's book Folding Techniques for Designers: From Sheet to Form. One thing led to another and soon we discovered Between the Folds. Paul Jackson is one of the paper artists featured in the documentary, but Canadian mathematician Erik Demaine stole the show. He makes math look fun. 
Since Christmas, my husband's hands have been busy: scattered throughout our home are folded paper sculptures. I'll photograph some of them to share with you. They really are beautiful. If you enjoy paper folding and are looking for something beyond origami, take a look at Paul Jackson's Folding Techniques for Designers.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Studio Series: Children's Art Project

A chance opportunity to draw with my 5 year old cousin during Thanksgiving changed my life. Since then I've been hanging out with young children and their parents one hour a week. I bought a few packs of washable markers, a pad of paper and a roll of tape to mount the drawings on the wall. After four months of drawing, one wall is covered and now we're working on a second wall. Every child has a style and focus. Samira* is six and draws faces very well and is now drawing elaborate patterns, some taking several weeks. Five year old Kyra* draws dresses, socks, and shoes. She has an eye for pattern. Gracie*  is 15 months and has moved from drawing dots on the page to making lines: her fine motor skills are developing. My role is merely to facilitate, not to teach. I tape the drawings to the wall and keep them supplied with paper: basically I am a studio assistant to young children. The children draw whatever they want. No one tells them that the apple must be coloured within the lines and that it must be red. 

Last week we had a small art opening and the children were thrilled. Our next project is to digitally print a group of drawings onto fabric and make two small quilts. One quilt will be auctioned off to raise funds for an inner city children's afterschool program. It's all good.

*not their real names

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!

Egzona made this for me in 2000 when she was just six. She and her family had come to Halifax as refugees from Kosovo and I was one of their sponsors. Egzona is an adult by now. Children's art is the best. 

Monday, 13 February 2012

Quotes: Robert Anton Wilson

Do It Every Day
"If you want to become a concert pianist, do it every day. You want to be a writer, do it every day. You want to become depressed, think depressing thoughts every day. You want to become an optimist, think a cheerful thought every day. Do it every day."  Robert Anton Wilson, American author
Quote from Maybe Logic: The Lives and Ideas of Robert Anton Wilson– Illustrated Interview with Paul Krassner, editor of The Realist.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Week 6: Adobe Illustrator

This has been a week of trying to figure out how to make a 13 petalled flower (yes, still!) and failing quite wonderfully. In the process of flailing about, I discovered offset paths, and they are my newest Adobe Illustrator obsession. The above two images were made by transforming stars with the offset path function. If I fail this wonderfully each week, I will definitely advance my skills. Here's to failure!

Shop Dog: Zoe @ b contemporary

Have you ever tried to photograph a pet? David Brace's loyal shop dog Zoe just wasn't interested in standing still for me, which made the photographs interesting – like the beginnings of a David Hockney collage. A new show of Stephanie Seagram's work is opening tonight at b contemporary. 

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Natural Dyeing with Avocado Pits progress report

First off, dyeing with avocado pits is a very different experience than dyeing with avocado skins. The smell of simmering skins is pleasant. It reminds me of my mom's old laundry soap– it smells of cleanliness, home, and my mom. The odour of simmering pits, on the other hand, is downright putrid. Skins give a deep rosy-tan colour and so far all that the pits yield is a delicate pink. The skin dye-bath is surprisingly strong and is taking weeks to exhaust. I've thrown in a few used tea bags with the hopes that some tannin will help the dye bond with the fabric. I still don't know if the dyes are light-fast or fugitive. I will have to test it for myself. Years ago I yielded a gorgeous purple-blue from blue cabbage and made a bathroom curtain with it. Within a few weeks every bit of colour was gone. So sad. 

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Studio Series: Ohne Titel 2

Ohne Titel 2 by Karen Thiessen © 2011
Ohne Titel 2 (which means Untitled 2 when translated from German to English) was part of the Painters and Potters show at the Carnegie Gallery in 2009. Jody Joseph invited several artists to participate and each one of us was to select a partner to collaborate with. Since I fell under the "painter" category, it was up to me to invite a potter. Two years earlier, I was part of the Out of the Past... Into the Future show and Tara Lynne Franco's work was hung right next to mine. Our work looked great together, so naturally when Jody asked me, I immediately thought of Tara Lynne. The panels are painted, collaged, stitched and include my textiles and Tara Lynne's ceramics.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Postcards: Susan Oaks

Sometimes my postcard posts are about the actual postcard, sometimes they are a story related to the postcard. This is one of the former. In 2009, my friend Esther picked up this Susan Oaks postcard from San Antonio for me. I met Esther at my first collage class in 2005. She is perceptive, self-effacing, generous, and thoughtful. Esther tries lots of different techniques and has an eye for collage. Unknowingly, she inspires the people around her. It is possible that the tag series was inspired by Esther's experiments. My beginnings with learning the principles of collage were more than ten years after I had the initial desire. School, moving house, and a busy career all contributed to me pushing off my desires to learn the technique. Watching Esther monoprint with found objects and document her father's workshop with photo-collage à la David Hockney awakened a desire in me to make more time to play and learn new things in my studio practice. Five years of once-a-week collage classes did wonders for me. I learned as much from my teachers as I did from my fellow students. Thanks Esther (and Jody, Marla, Mina, Kathy, Wayne, and Jane)!

Monday, 6 February 2012

Quotes: Bruce Mau

"Allow events to change you. The real purpose of work is to enrich yourself–not only to enrich yourself financially, but to enrich yourself as a person and as a being. To do that, you have to be open to change." –Bruce Mau, Canadian designer

Friday, 3 February 2012

Week 5: Adobe Illustrator

It took five weeks for me to start to dream in Adobe Illustrator again. My learning continues to be guided by my curiosity, so it is higgledy-piggledgy. I saw the single blue repeat element on a tile in an old Livingetc magazine and realized that it was simply two squares, with one at a 45 degree angle. This design provided an opportunity to play with the compound path feature and naturally I had to put the element into repeat. Aren't the negative spaces divine?

Mailbox joy!!

Look what arrived in the mail.  The envelope is an object of beauty both front

and back. 

I opened it with a careful scalpel slit and look what I found inside. 
It's a collage by Kathy Renwald... and me. Kathy posted an image of the original tag on her blog here. I recognize the beagle from here. Isn't he a charming fellow? I love how Kathy "borrowed" my collage to make it her own. Kathy, thank you for the mailbox joy!

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Kristi Malakoff Butterflies

Gary Michael Dault's Globe & Mail review ("A gorgeous moment of collective pause") of Kristi Malakoff's Minutiae exhibit at LE Gallery in 2006 was my first introduction to this artist's work. I'm a sucker for modular art and for artists who have a touch of OCD. When I saw her Butterflies installation in a Toronto Queen Street West store I was thrilled to finally see her work in person. The Butterfly installation appears to be a subset of her Swarm installation from the LE show. Malakoff photocopied the butterflies from zoology texts onto sheets of transparent plastic, possibly overhead transparency sheets, and then armed with a pair of scissors, she cut out each one. The Swarm installation had 6,000 butterflies-- that's a lot of cutting.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Studio Series: Cycles II

Cycles II © Karen Thiessen, 2007
When I was making Cycles II for the Out of the Past... Into the Present show, my life was falling apart and there was nothing that I could do about it. By the end of 2007, 11 people in my sphere had died. I was not close to every person, but each death had an effect on me. Wonderful things happened too: three cousins married, one cousin and his wife had their first child, my career was progressing by leaps and bounds. Five years ago I learned who my real friends were, and who they were not. One friendship ended and three took its place. One tragic death so affected me that my husband and I decided to visit New York City for the first time. Life is short.

I was invited to dig through the Dundas Museum and Archives to select a piece to respond to for the Out of the Past show, and by chance I found a box of Victorian mourning jewellery. My grandma had just died, so my fresh grief collided nicely with the hair jewellery discovery. While my grandma was dying, I held her hand and stroked her hair as I spoke softly to her. Death affects each person differently. For various reasons, three of my grandma's four children were AWOL when it came time to sort through and distribute her stuff, so it fell to an uncle and his wife and my husband and me. As the oldest grandchild, I knew her the longest and possibly the best. Grandma was a pack rat and an avid and accomplished textile person, so there was much to sort through. The mother-of-pearl brooch front and the pearls came from her stash. The hair is mine, from when I had my head shaved for an important birthday. Circles represent the life cycle. All the elements work together to support the concept. Below are the artifacts that inspired Cycles II.
A. Victorian Mourning Jewellery Hair brooch, collection of Dundas Museum & Archives
B. Victorian Mourning Jewellery Hair bracelet, collection of Dundas Museum & Archives
A. Memorial Hair & Pearl Brooch, presented to Jane Notman, 1845
B. Lady's hair bracelet, braided design. Held together by gold clasp in knotted design, c. 1880