Friday, 30 March 2012


Returning from Arizona, I realized how many projects that I've been juggling and how difficult it's been to get all my balls back up in the air. The first two weeks back were a real slog, but the most recent two have been much better. Still, I've wondered if all that I do would ever amount to anything whole and complete. Today I managed to connect the dots, dot the i's and cross the t's on a number of projects and I feel great. Sometimes it's like that-- you put one foot in front of the other with the hope that you will get somewhere and just when you are about to lose faith, you realize that you've reached your destination. The important lesson in all of this is to stay focussed, make the most of the journey, and to have faith in what you do.

This is my 400th post. I wrote them day in and day out, one at a time. Thanks for visiting!

Week 12: Adobe Illustrator

Lounge I © Karen Thiessen 2012
My fling with orange persists. One day I created a rather ugly alien/lounge shape. On its own, it was strange. Put into a repeat, it played nice with the other aliens and the resulting negative spaces are extraordinary. In the end, I created seven patterns with the lounge shape without exhausting its potential. And to think that in my student days I drew all my repeat patterns by hand. 

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Arizona: Yuma patterns and shadows

Yuma's bright sun offered plenty of shadows to photograph. Old Town was the most photographic area of the city. We were there on market day when the main street is closed to traffic. Market vendors sold an array of products including magnetic jewellery, smelly soaps, colourful clothing, and farm produce. 

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Karen Shapiro at Scottsdale Fine Art

Just days before we left for Arizona, I saw my colleague Catherine Weir's new raku work where she had added bold colour (it's so new that it's not yet on her website). Until then, I didn't know that raku could be so colourful. Catherine's new work was a harbinger of what I was to see at Scottsdale Fine Art during the weekly Thursday evening Art Walk in Scottsdale, Arizona. Karen Shapiro's work knocked my socks off! The gallery attendant generously gave me permission to photograph the work. See more of Karen's work here.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Arizona hummingbirds

Hummingbirds were plentiful in Yuma. Almost every time I pulled out the camera, they would hide. It took three days to get semi-decent photographs of these elusive creatures. Once in a while they would take a break on the Ficus tree branch but they were so small that you had to look very hard to see them. Beware: if you wear a bright pink top, hummingbirds may mistake you for a flower.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Quotes: Patanjali

"When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great, and wonderful world. Dominant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a better person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be." – Patanjali


I had one of those weekends of running errands, a chance encounter and lovely visit with an old friend, sharing dim sum with a new friend, puttering in the garden, and going on long walks with my handsome guy. My husband and I watched And When They Shall Ask, a docudrama about the Russian Mennonite experience of war, famine, and escaping Russia in the early 1920s. I needed to watch it for research purposes. The story is personal because it is an account shared by my grandparents and great-grandparents. And When They Shall Ask and the online documentary Through the Red Gate are parallel historical accounts of what the Mennonites suffered. Both were difficult to watch. This weekend I also attended the funeral visitation of my great-uncle (a remarkable man), my oldest and last living relative who remembered Russia and escaping with his parents and five siblings by the skin of their teeth. T'was a weekend of memories both old and new. Balance is everything.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Week 11: Adobe Illustrator

From Here to Infinity I © Karen Thiessen, 2012
Now that I've practiced Adobe Illustrator "hands-on-the-keyboard" for 35 hours over 11 weeks (not counting all my AI dreaming, thinking, and scheming), very cool things are beginning to happen. This week I was one with the pen and direct selection tools while I prodded and poked ordinary geometric shapes until they looked like circus freaks. Above is an oval that I twisted into a rather tame infinity shape and then put into repeat. I made about 15 patterns and as I look at the week's bounty I realize that all my patterns have orange in them. This trend could be due to our hotter than usual weather for this time of the year. Oh, as of Tuesday it's also officially Spring here in Canada. How did that happen so soon?

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Los Algodones, Mexico #2

Here are more backstreet images of Los Algodones. The people of Los Algodones do what they can to make a living. My dad encouraged me to photograph a grandmother and her grandson while he gave the boy a few dollars. The bottom image shows a quiet market area off the beaten track with fewer people in our faces urging us to buy things. I was charmed by the couple holding hands. How romantic.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Los Algondones, Mexico #1

These are the parts of Los Algodones, Mexico that I enjoyed. Los Algodones is a border town that caters to medical tourists. Snowbirds are the main visitors where they visit dentists, chiropractors, and other health-care practitioners. Mom and I sat on the colourful bench while my dad had his hair cut for $4.00 US. We drove from Yuma to a large parking lot and then walked into Mexico. The first thing that we encountered were open-air market stalls with people constantly in our faces urging us to buy this and that. Ms. Introvert (that would be me) shut down immediately. Only when we stepped out of the market area was I able to catch my breath and appreciate the beauty.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Postcards: 1966 Cacti & Desert Flora

In keeping with the desert theme, here's a vintage postcard from my great grandmother's postcard collection. The desert looks pretty in this picture. According to the back of the postcard, this is a "full color reproduction from a painting by Larry Toschik." Grandpa and Grandma mailed this card on February 4, 1966 from Jacumba, California and they probably drove there pulling their Airstream trailer.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Salvation Mountain #3: Niland, California

The top three images show the truck where Leonard Knight lived until he moved into a nursing home. Leonard used window putty to create the raised decorative elements on the hood and grill of the truck.

Quotes: J.W. Alexander

"There are pauses amidst study, and even pauses of seeming idleness, in which a process goes on which may be likened to the digestion of food. In those seasons of repose, the powers are gathering their strength for new efforts; as land which lies fallow recovers itself for tillage. – J.W. Alexander

Friday, 16 March 2012

Week 10: Adobe Illustrator

Citrus Stars © Karen Thiessen, 2012
While in Arizona, I was hyper-aware of pattern and texture and saw it everywhere. My sketchbook was well nourished with sketches and images clipped from free magazines gathered here and there. Patterns adorning the hotel shower curtain, hall carpet, and lounge sofa caught my eye. Shadows, sidewalk drains, even a parking sign filled my inspiration well. Somehow the harsh environment pushed beauty forward. So, even though I did no hands-on-a-keyboard Adobe Illustrator practice while I was away, I was constantly thinking of pattern. Yesterday I realized that my patterns need to evolve and include more than one element, so here is my first attempt using the skills that I have learned thus far.

Salvation Mountain #2: Niland, California

Interior shots of Salvation Mountain. To learn more about Salvation Mountain, check out Larry Yust's book Salvation Mountain: The Art of Leonard Knight, the March 2005 National Geographic, and various videos and documentaries on YouTube. Do you see why Salvation Mountain is worth preserving?

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Salvation Mountain #1: Niland, California

Are you ready for a huge jolt of awesomeness? Salvation Mountain was so incredibly strange and beautiful that I'll share my images over three days. That's three days of awesomeness for you!
Salvation Mountain was a long drive from Yuma, but well worth the trip. Leonard Knight is the brains and brawn behind Salvation Mountain, a three story structure made of adobe, donated paint, vehicle windows (see picture #4), and a love for God. My parents met Leonard several times over the years and had much to tell me about him and his Mountain. Leonard, born in 1931, was recently moved into a nursing home due to failing health. I couldn't imagine leaving behind such a labour of love. Dad told me that Leonard made each flower (bottom picture) by slapping down a large gob of adobe and then thrusting his fist into the centre. Once dry, he painted each one. Without Leonard's daily attention to his Mountain, I fear that it will disintegrate and become a safety hazard. In 2001, the Folk Art Society of America designated Salvation Mountain as a National Folk Art Site Worthy of Protection and Preservation. Let's hope that it is protected and preserved so that future generations can enjoy this work of art.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Jody Alexander at Yuma Art Center

Jody Alexander Sedimental No. 4, 2010; Singer sewing machine cover, discarded  miniature books, fabric $800
Jody Alexander Sedimental No. 4, 2010 detail
Jody Alexander Sedimental No. 4, 2010 detail
Jody Alexander Seven Exposed Spines, 2010 detail
Jody Alexander Seven Exposed Spines, 2010; Discarded books, fabric, thread, $350 
Yuma is a cross between a small agricultural town and a sprawling suburb, so I didn't expect Old Town to be charming or that it would have a modern art gallery and beautifully restored theatre. Jody Alexander's altered books, part of the Yuma Symposium 33 group show in the Yuma Art Center, grabbed my eye. 

Jody's work has an element of mystery that draws me in. What books are embedded in fabric and thread? What meaning is hidden from us? I like not knowing everything. The fabric enveloping the books in both pieces reminds me of cotton quilt batting that has been stained with coffee or tea. The layers and materials of Sedimental No. 4 and Seven Exposed Spines are evocative of both past and present. This duality is probably what hooked me the first time that I saw the work. 

According to the didactic panel in the gallery: "Jody Alexander holds an M.S. in Library Science from Simmons College in Boston. She is an artist, book-binder, papermaker, librarian and teacher who lives and works in Santa Cruz, California. She makes paper and binds books in a number of historical and modern binding styles. She combines these books with found objects to create artists' books, sculptural works and installations. Her pieces celebrate collecting, storytelling, and odd characters. She also enjoys rescuing old books in distress and giving them new life as scrolls, wall books and other objects." Check out her website to learn more. 

Note: Kelly from Yuma Fine Arts Association granted me permission to photograph the work and share it with you.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012


My husband and I were in Arizona (and California and Mexico). We visited Yuma, Scottsdale, Los Algodones (Mexico), and Niland, CA. Arizona was never on my list of places to visit, but my parents like it there, so we went. It was my first vacation with my parents since I was 16.5 years old and it was great. I'm not exactly a cactus, mountain, sand, or desert kind of gal, but seeing things outside of my aesthetic comfort zone stretched me as an artist (a good thing). I didn't expect to see palm trees and Bougainvillea (only in red). They helped to soften the landscape.
The vacation disrupted our lifestyle. For one week we didn't listen to the radio or any kind of music, we didn't watch movies or surf the internet, we didn't work. I didn't write any blog posts. I did feed my sketchbook and take lots of pictures.

The Arizona landscape challenged me. Beyond my dislike of desert, cacti, and mountains, I also don't like sprawl. Yuma and Scottsdale were mostly suburban sprawl places and finding nice places to walk was challenging. Both places had Old Towns which were pleasantly walkable. The difficult landscape forced me to look hard and deep for inspiration. Thankfully I found it. The most important part of our time away was that my husband and I had a very good vacation with my parents. Life is short.