Thursday, 31 May 2012

Visual Research II

Trammel boxes by Mary Snyder Behrens. Fibre/Mixed Media, each 5.5" X 2.75" X 1"

Trammel: a) to catch or hold in or as if in a net: ENMESH
b) to prevent or impede the free play of: CONFINE

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Studio Series: Tangents Pile I

Tangents Pile 1 © Karen Thiessen 2012
One by one, I've been sharing my Tangents series quilts with you over the last few weeks. Well, here are ALL thirteen of them layered on top of each other in Photoshop. Their sizes are all a bit different, so I had to scale the images accordingly and of course I reduced the opacity so that you can see all thirteen at once. This idea was inspired by an artist who scanned a year's worth of Vogue magazine covers and showed them layered at reduced opacity. I digitally printed Tangents Pile onto fabric and have been hand-stitching it. Cool, eh?

Tuesday, 29 May 2012


Aren't these packages beautiful? I love the sardine superimposed over the pattern created by the repeated logo. Nice.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Quotes: Mystery

"Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man's desire to understand." – Neil Armstrong, American astronaut

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science." – Albert Einstein, German-born theoretical physicist

"Man cannot live without mystery. He has great need of it." – John (Fire) Lame Deer, North American Sioux Shaman

"Songwriting is a bit like being connected to a mystery." – Paul Kelly, Australian singer-songwriter

"I think mystery is more interesting than explanation, so let's leave this as a mystery." – Louise Bourgeois, French-American artist. Quoted from Louise Bourgeois: Drawings and Observations, 1995, p. 123.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Week 20: Adobe Illustrator

Ocean hexagons © Karen Thiessen 2012
The Japanese hexagon pattern continues to inspire me. I took the pattern and added colour using my current favourite tool: Live Paint. I could spend an entire week just playing with adding colour to the triangles in various combinations to see how the viewer's experience of the pattern changes. It may come to this: I've reached a section of the manual that is rather dry and I need projects to keep my curiosity and enthusiasm high, otherwise my motivation will dwindle.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Visual Research I

Installation by Jayce Salloum. It's huge. Security envelopes and plastic bottle caps are beautiful.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Sketchbook Review I

Template Drawing & Collage © Karen Thiessen 2012
Drawing & Collage © Karen Thiessen 2012
A post by Judy Martin reminded me of the importance of reviewing my old sketchbooks. This spring, I've been going through my 8 inch X 8 inch sketchbooks and recording the ideas, notes, and images that jump out at me in my current sketchbook. Writing about Sandra Brownlee's Deluxe Edition catalogue also inspired me to do a review. The above two images incorporate template drawings and collage.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Sandra Brownlee: Departures & Returns Deluxe 3

* This is part three of a multi-part essay about Sandra Brownlee's Deluxe Edition catalogue, Departures and Returns, and my experience with it. I've written the context in plain text and my experience in italics. Read part one here and part two here.

Before I heard the story behind Emerald Isle by husband-and-wife team Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland aka Whitehorse, I thought the song was nice, but I didn't give it much thought. Once I learned that the song is about Melissa flying half-way around the world to surprise Luke and be at the finish line as he ran his first marathon my appreciation changed instantly. Now each time I hear the song, I stop what I am doing and listen closely. Sometimes a song, a book, or a work of art is appreciated more fully when one hears the story behind it. This is true for my experience of Sandra Brownlee's textile I am becoming.
Sandra Brownlee Departures & Returns Deluxe Edition; Photo Credit: Jack Ramsdale
Sandra Brownlee I am becoming; Photo Credit: Keith McLeod
Sandra stitched "I am becoming" when she first moved back to Nova Scotia. Like the hemp mosquito netting inclusion that I wrote about in part two, "I am becoming" is embedded with significance beyond its message. The background fabric is indigo-dyed mosquito netting and the text is formed from strips of a Japanese obi that Sandra unravelled. Both the mosquito netting and the obi were departing gifts from Sandra's friend Michelle Liao. With a running stitch, Sandra slowly stitched the words with strips of obi in the order that they were unravelled, little by little, word by word. This was very much a Cageian chance operation. 

I confess that like the burlap-like page in part two, I initially wrote-off I am becoming. The textile is a departure from the black-and-white woven images that I associate with Sandra Brownlee and I didn't understand how it fit into her oeuvre. Without the remarkable story behind it, I dismissed it as being an affirmation popular in the 1980s self-help movement. Learning that this piece was made slowly with chance and intention radically changed my perception. According to Sandra, the "affirmation" was not planned ahead and stitched down. This was purely a stream of consciousness writing using needle, thread and unravelled strips from an old obi gifted to her. The flourishes (those shapes that look like the letters n, w, and u) were Sandra's moments of stalling, of not knowing what to write next. Hearing the story behind the materials, and why and how it was made, reinforced the themes of connection, recommitment, and "circle of love and support." I realize now that the act of stitching I am becoming led her back to weaving full-time.

To be continued...

Monday, 21 May 2012

Quotes: G.K. Chesterton

"The function of the imagination is not to make strange things settled, so much as to make settled things strange." – G. K. Chesterton, early 20th century British author

Friday, 18 May 2012

Week 19: Adobe Illustrator

Circles & Stars Multi ©Karen Thiessen 2012
This pattern is brought to you by persistence and Live Paint! A few days before I got to the Live Paint lesson in my Adobe Illustrator book, I created a sedate version of this pattern (see image below) that was painfully slow to fake and make. When I discovered Live Paint, I redid the pattern in a way that I could not before: with lots of colour! Wouldn't this make fun gift wrap?
Circles & Stars © Karen Thiessen 2012

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Sandra Brownlee: Departures & Returns Deluxe 2

* This is part two of a multi-part essay about Sandra Brownlee's Deluxe Edition catalogue, Departures and Returns, and my experience with it. I've written the context in plain text and my experience in italics. You can read part one here.
Departures & Returns Deluxe Edition by Sandra Brownlee; Photo Credit: Jack Ramsdale
Departures & Returns Deluxe Edition by Sandra Brownlee; Photo Credit: Jack Ramsdale
A Departure...
As I wrote in the first post, Sandra Brownlee's Departures and Returns Deluxe Edition catalogue was an ambitious project where she, with a team of hired assistants, created 30 artist books containing 25 inclusions per edition. Each inclusion was selected with care. Above is a page of hemmed hemp mosquito netting fabric from Japan that was gifted to Sandra as a farewell gift from her friend Michelle Liao, owner of the Liao Collection Asian Antiques when she was leaving Philadelphia to move back to Nova Scotia. Sandra included a "page" of this fabric in each of the 30 Deluxe Editions to provide a tactile and visual experience as the viewer transitioned from one page to another. The textile veils the pages it rests against and reinforces the physical experience of moving through the book. The hemp mosquito netting reminds us of the Departures aspect of the catalogue's title.

Without the story behind the Japanese hemp mosquito netting, I dismissed the fabric as being ordinary burlap and wondered why Sandra would include something so mundane in such an extraordinary book. Once I learned its context, my perception, and therefore my experience shifted. When I realized that this was not some randomly chosen fabric, I gave it more time. I dug out my magnifying glass to see if the fabric was hemmed by hand or machine (hand, I think) and noted that under magnification the hemp has a subtle sheen. I realized that the textile was embedded with meaning beyond its function to veil the index page so as to build mystery and anticipation. The mosquito netting slows down the viewer and thus prolongs the experience of the Deluxe Edition. How? I see it and wonder about its significance, I touch it and encounter a contrasting tactile experience to smooth, firm pages. The netting feels fragile and I handle it gingerly. This fabric speaks of friendship, community, support, and departure. 
Departures & Returns Deluxe Edition by Sandra Brownlee; Photo Credit: Jack Ramsdale
Departures & Returns Deluxe Edition by Sandra Brownlee; Photo Credit: Jack Ramsdale
... & a Return.
Do you remember the page with the circle of pierced red dots? The act of drawing the raised brown dots within a circle (in the above image) exemplified a ritual that Sandra used to slow down and focus to prepare for work in the studio. The dots were drawn with soil from her Dartmouth garden mixed with PVA glue. It is a theme of reconnecting with home soil. The image following the soil dots is a page of heavy paper completely covered with the same soil and PVA concoction rubbed into it. For Sandra, this symbolized her return to her motherland and her new groundedness in her home and studio.

When I moved back to Ontario after only five years away (versus Sandra's twenty-six), I needed to garden with gusto and put down roots both in the garden and in the community. Studio work was punctuated with weeks of intense gardening each spring, summer, and fall. I needed to feel grounded and connected with people and place. Being a tactile-oriented person, I sense that Sandra "drew" and "painted" with her Dartmouth garden soil to fully experience her return to home ground and to integrate this into her studio practice. When I gently stroke the heavy pages, the soil dots feel like a Braille drawing and the fully painted page has a pleasing texture. Last summer I learned this technique during Sandra's Tactile Notebooks and the Written Word workshop and painted a few pages in a new sketchbook with heavy pages. Writing this essay makes me want to try it again.  

To be continued...

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Sketchbook collages

Scalloped collage © Karen Thiessen 2012 
 Remains collage © Karen Thiessen 2012 
Over the last year I've been unpacking all that I learned from my June 2011 Tactile Notebooks and the Written Word workshop with Sandra Brownlee. One of the things that stuck with me was to prepare my sketchbook pages with washes of colour. This year I've gone all out with preparing pages with watercolour and ink washes, plus I dug out my watercolour wax crayons (that I first used during a Fran Skiles workshop) to gussy up a few pages. A bonus is that in the process I'm using up old art supplies.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Corticelli Book

Cousin Edna passed this book on to me when she was moving last summer. It once belonged to her mother, my Aunt Hilda, who is still going strong as the family matriarch and oldest member of my extended family. Cousin Edna is a retired teacher, but I think she would make an excellent archivist since each of the textile items in the two bulging bags was carefully labelled with its provenance. Some items belonged to my late Oma, some were Aunt Hilda's, and others were from my late Aunt Erika. It's nice knowing where the textile books, notions, and fabric came from. The Corticelli book appears to be from the 1940s. What do you think?

Monday, 14 May 2012

Quotes: William Henry Channing

"To live content with small means
to seek elegance rather than luxury
and refinement rather than fashion
To be worthy, not respectable,
and wealthy, not rich
To study hard, think quickly,
talk quietly, act frankly
To listen to stars and birds,
babes and sages, with open hearts
To bear all cheerfully, do all bravely
await occasions, hurry never –
in a word, to let the spiritual,
unbidden and unconscious,
grow up through the common.
This is to be my symphony."

– William Henry Channing

Friday, 11 May 2012

Week 18: Adobe Illustrator

Cabbage Roses ©Karen Thiessen 2012
Last week I was tickled pink with figuring out how to make the Ziggy Zag pattern. This week I feel the same with the Cabbage Roses pattern which also has its origins from the starburst pattern. This design required that I twist my brain into mental pretzels to figure out all the angles, reflections, and rotations but it was well worth the effort. Learning a new computer program is akin to learning a new language.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Sandra Brownlee: Departures & Returns Deluxe 1

* This is a multi-part essay about Sandra Brownlee's Deluxe Edition catalogue, Departures and Returns, and my experience with it. I've written the context in plain text and my experience in italics.
Departures and Returns Deluxe Edition by Sandra Brownlee Photo Credit: Jack Ramsdale

In 2009 Sandra mounted her solo exhibition In 2009 Sandra Departures and Returns at the Mary Black Gallery in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Accompanying this retrospective were a video and two catalogues, a Deluxe Edition and Special Edition. With a focus on her notebooks, the catalogues are a chronicle of Sandra reconnecting with community and place. Upon her return to Nova Scotia in 2005, after 26 years away, she decided to explore, gather, respond to, and immerse herself in the notebooks to create a record of reconnecting with evidence of her different experiences like smells of the ocean, sounds of water, and viewing the Maude Lewis paintings at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. The exhibition allowed Sandra to bring together her past, present and future: her past 26 years of development; her re-immersion into this place; and contemplating and inviting "the next." With twinned foci of notebook and weaving at the core of Sandra's studio practice, it only made sense that she create a Deluxe Edition artist catalogue that included selections from her notebooks, images of her weavings, an actual woven cover, inclusions of fabric and paper with stories to tell, and finally, an original woven image. Making one Deluxe Edition is a serious undertaking. Take that and multiply it by 30. Yes, Sandra and a team of hired assistants created 30 Deluxe Edition Departures and Returns catalogues. They sold for $500 each, a small price considering the labour involved in making each one. Sandra and her hired guns also produced 100 Special Edition catalogues that cost about $45 each. Since 2009, she has reprinted 200 more Special Editions.

A package arrived the other day and I confess that it sat unopened over a weekend mocking me for my reticence. I knew that once opened it would draw me in and claim my attention. When I was a student at Sheridan, a professor loaned me an art doll from her collection so that I could take time to experience and learn from it. Likewise, Sandra Brownlee loaned me the Deluxe Edition of her Departures and Returns catalogue for a few weeks and moments after it is in my hands I am in a state of wonder.
Departures and Returns Deluxe Edition by Sandra Brownlee Photo Credit: Jack Ramsdale
The cover of the Deluxe Edition is made up of three images that were copied from her notebooks. The warp for both front and back is an image of a dream that she had in Philadelphia of coming back to Nova Scotia. The front weft is the Tree of Life and the back weft is a bird that Sandra stitched into one of her notebooks. She cut 1/4 inch strips of paper colour copies to create the warps and wefts. For each cover she cut 60 paper warps of the dream, 30 paper warps of the Tree, and another 30 paper warps of the bird. She then wrapped these paper weavings around boards, then glued them on. Sandra and Jennifer Green, a studio assistant, did the bulk of the work, with some help from Susan MacAlpine Foshay, former director of the Mary Black Gallery. Just a reminder, multiply all of this labour for each book cover by 30. Each of the 30 Deluxe Edition covers is unique. Book binders Niko Sylvester and Joe Landry bound the deluxe editions with help from Sandra. There's more: the ribbon on the spine was designed by Sandra and hand-woven by Jennifer Green.

Opening the package, I carefully extract the book from its wrappings, I have in my hands an original work of art. How often are we able to touch a work of art, unless it’s our own? The closed book with its hand-woven cover of paper strips feels good, even pleasurable in the hand. Ditto, the black finger-painted band enclosing the book. Both cover and band slow me down with their tactile offerings and indicate that this is an experience to be savoured. The band is a small moment to celebrate and consider. I do, and then I carefully slip it off. Just a heads up, careful and slow are two words that I will be using liberally in this text. Although I own the affordable special edition of Departures and Returns, it doesn’t prepare me for the richness of the deluxe edition. To call the deluxe edition a catalogue is accurate but unfair. Yes, this book does chronicle the bridge between Sandra’s twenty-six years of development in Ontario and the United States and her return to Nova Scotia, but calling it an artist book elevates it to a higher level, where it belongs.

Departures and Returns Deluxe Edition by Sandra Brownlee Photo Credit: Jack Ramsdale
What differentiates the Deluxe Edition from the Special Edition are 25 additional features like the two woven covers, a finger-painted book enclosure, various fabrics and translucent papers, a fold-out page, a folio containing an original woven textile and more. Each inclusion has a story to tell. Do I need to remind you to multiply the 25 features by 30 Editions? (Psst, that's 750 extras in case you were wondering) It boggles my mind. As I wrote in this post, Sandra hired Sarah Bodine, a New Jersey-based editor and designer to help bring form to her images, words, and vision. Through Sarah's input, Sandra gained insight into what was important and what was the next step. Based on Sandra's themes of tactile notebooks, pathways, weavings, and ground I stand on, Sarah designed a wayfinding system for the catalogue with chapter headings in a coral-red colour. Sarah chose many of the papers and found the printer in Flemington, New Jersey.

When I open the book, I encounter a translucent page veiling a page with a circle of pierced red dots. Turning the translucent page, I realize that it has a subtle grid of tone-on-tone dots, barely perceivable unless one takes the time to really see. The grid of dots mimics the circle of red dots. From the get-go I am aware that each insertion has been selected with great care. Departures and Returns is not a book to be rushed through. I get out my magnifying glass to look even closer. This book does that to me.

Sandra drew the dots with a waterproof fine-tipped marker and then her studio assistant, Jennifer Green pierced each dot with a T-pin. The dots are a way for Sandra to focus and prepare herself for studio work. Thirty Deluxe Editions means thirty pages of hand-drawn pierced dots. That's a lot of work.

To be continued (with a hint of things to come)...
Departures and Returns Deluxe Edition by Sandra Brownlee Photo Credit: Jack Ramsdale
Departures and Returns Deluxe Edition by Sandra Brownlee Photo Credit: Jack Ramsdale

Design inspiration

Where do you get your inspiration? For me, it's travel, nature, packaging, magazines, blogs, walking, reading, gardening, daily studio work, listening to and recording family stories, cleaning the house and more. Inspiration is everywhere if you slow down and look for it. For years I've gathered inspiration into notebooks, sketchbooks, and books of commonplace. Now I do all of the above plus I write this blog. This week I reviewed a sketchbook (#6) from 2008 and recorded the salient bits in my current sketchbook (#13). Looking back and then forward is like mental yoga: a spinal twist for the brain to keep it supple and young.

The above image was from tasty chocolate in great packaging. Naturally I think about how to recreate these designs in Adobe Illustrator when I look at it. Most of the motifs are beyond my current skill level, but they are something to think about.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Studio Series: Stripy Log Cabin quilt

Stripy Log Cabin quilt ©Karen Thiessen 2012
Stripy Log Cabin quilt detail ©Karen Thiessen 2012
Stripy Log Cabin was just installed in a local space, adjacent to Fire 2. I've only seen these quilts up one at a time, so I am pleased to see them hung together. Stripy Log Cabin, Tangents, and Fire 2 are part of my Tangents series and I pieced the squares and subsequent quilts improvisationally. Improvisational piecing is equal parts fun, intense, and its opposite, relaxing. Once I am into the flow of piecing, I lose track of time and have difficulty stopping for any sort of break. It's like reading a mystery novel and not being able to put it down. If you have difficulty meditating, try improvisational piecing. Stripy Log Cabin is 69” wide X 91” long (175 cm X 231 cm).

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Sandra Brownlee Interview 2005

April 22, 2005 interview with Sandra Brownlee for the Senior Artists Initiative and Oral History Project by Hannah Ratzlaff, intern at University of the Arts, Philadelphia. The videographer was Rosalie Kenny.

I've meant to add this video to my blog for a year now. I have a more recent video from her Departures and Returns show that Sandra has given me permission to upload, but alas I haven't yet figured out how to do it.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Quotes: Wendell Berry

"It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings." – Wendell Berry
Have you ever had a difficult day that got better thanks to an unexpected gift? This quote presented itself to me on one of those days. The right quote on the wrong day made all the difference.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Week 17: Adobe Illustrator

Ziggy Zag ©Karen Thiessen 2012
Do you remember my goal of creating a starburst pattern in Adobe Illustrator (AI)? Ziggy Zag is the reason behind it. A few years ago I created a version of this pattern in Photoshop from a section of this postcard. Photoshop is a memory pig, and Ziggy Zag is a vector-based pattern, so why not learn to recreate it in a more efficient program? Right. One of the frustrating aspects of AI is that unlike Photoshop, there is no obvious cropping tool. If there is, I haven't learned it yet. The Divide Objects Below tool is the closest thing to a marquee or cropping tool that I've found and I'm still figuring out how to use it effectively. I have more ideas for this pattern, but Rome was't built in a day. 

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Garden Dreams

Photo credit: Doug Porter
With spring comes thoughts of the garden. Last year we expanded our front garden into part of our driveway and now I'm thinking about plants and funky garden structures such as these red and yellow bamboo sticks. I've read that it takes five to eight years for a garden to mature, so it will take a while to get it right and see how the plants adapt and get along with each other. The new space is one of only two areas on the property that get sun and boy am I excited. The other area is now garden too. Last summer we tore down an old shed in the backyard where raccoons, cats, and birds went underneath to die and over this burial ground my husband built four raised planters where we will attempt to grow vegetables. I'm a country gal and never encountered a shade garden until we bought the fixer-upper that we now call home. I have learned to work with the gazillion trees on and around our yard, but secretly I yearned for a space to plant sunflowers, butterfly bushes, zinnias, vegetables, and a whole host of other sun-loving plants. Last autumn, I planted a few perennials in the front sun garden and in three weeks I'll head to the garden centre for annuals and vegetable plants. Whee!!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Studio Series: Fire 2 quilt

Fire 2 quilt ©Karen Thiessen 2012
Fire 2 is quiet compared to last week's featured quilt Tangents. The golden sashing is made up of onion-skin dyed fabrics, probably with Ted Hutten's onion skins from Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley and Halifax tap water. Although I fleshed out the quilt with some commercial fabrics, many fabrics I dyed, printed, and over-dyed myself. Let's just say I was a little too productive when I was a Sheridan student and I still have bins of dyed and printed fabrics waiting to be used. The very bottom magenta sash is an old faded studio curtain that I over-dyed while I was a resident in the Harbourfront studio. Fire 2, is 82.5” W X 91.25” H or 210 cm X 232 cm. One day I'll show you Fire 1 and Fire 3.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Postcards: Fausta Facciponte

Fausta Facciponte Emma for $1.15, 2007
Have you seen Fausta Facciponte's show of doll portraits yet? I saw this at Hamilton's McMaster Museum of Art in 2009 and I was blown away. The digital photographs mounted on plexiglass are 40 x 48 inches, much larger than doll size. The dolls are in various stages of "lovedness" and many of the photos are creepy-cute. A few of the dolls appear to be possessed by demons as they stare the viewer down – the stuff of nightmares. Other dolls evoke pity or sympathy. In a previous life, they were loved by their young owners, only to be discarded later to the thrift store or garage sale. I still have two of my well-loved childhood dolls garbed in dresses that my great-grandmother made for them.