Friday, 29 June 2012

Week 24: Adobe Illustrator

Scattershot with dots © Karen Thiessen 2012
Taking a week off from my Adobe Illustrator practice was good and I'm gradually easing back into my routine. The break came at a good time because I was struggling to keep motivated. The boring chapter on layers is now relevant and I'm now having fun playing with their order and opacity.

Happy Canada Day long weekend to you all!

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Jonathan Royce: Keef and Bruno Totums

Keef and Bruno Totums by Jonathan Royce; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen 2012 
The Surface Design Association Ontario chapter recently met at Needlework in Hamilton and there I met Jonathan Royce, a recent transplant from Brooklyn, New York. Some of us brought projects that we are working on. Jonathan brought a mysterious colorful box. When he opened it, a host of characters popped out and charmed us with their strange brilliance. The knit characters are called Totums and are based on his Keef and Bruno "family." 
Keef and Bruno Totums by Jonathan Royce; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen 2012
As you can see from the hand in the upper left corner of the above images, Totums are small, expressive creatures. Jonathan, a former animator, knits them all himself. I could see them in an exhibition in one of the hallway cases at York Quay Gallery at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto. 
Keef and Bruno Totums by Jonathan Royce; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen 2012
Keef and Bruno Totums by Jonathan Royce; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen 2012
Keef and Bruno Totums by Jonathan Royce; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen 2012
Jonathan says that the Totums are on the verge of becoming movie stars in an animated film. I can't wait to see it!
* photos taken with permission from Jonathan Royce

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Studio Series: Pink Cross quilt

Pink Cross quilt ©Karen Thiessen 2012
Looking at Pink Cross brings back memories of place. I pieced the square that this quilt was named after in Singapore using fabrics that I had dyed and printed while I was a Sheridan textiles student and fabrics that I bought in Bali and Singapore's Little India. When I pieced the pink cross square, I had just graduated from Sheridan and then moved to Singapore. I pieced the other squares in the months following my graduation from NSCAD when I was feeling lost. I pieced all the squares together in the months following the end of my residency in the Harbourfront Textiles studio. Pink Cross is all about finding my new path during transitions. It's big: 80.75” W X 80.5” H or 205 cm W X 204.5 cm H.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Anne West: Mapping the Intelligence of Artistic Work

Anne West's book Mapping the Intelligence of Artistic Work arrived from Maine College of Art's Moth Press in February. Katarina Weslien, the editor of Mapping, kindly gave me permission to photograph it long ago. If you look closely at the above image, you'll see that the corners are slightly tattered and that the book is bulging with bookmarks. For months I've literally been carrying it and my sketchbook in a red tote bag around the house with me wherever I go. 
Sandra Brownlee, a friend and colleague of Anne West, told me about the book in the summer of 2010, then I read a mention of it in an article by Warren Seelig in Surface Design Journal, so I ordered it. The shipping to Canada was affordable, quick, and efficient.
Mapping is rich with quotes, photographs, and images. It's so rich that I can only dip into it in small doses. Anne West beckons us to dig deep into our creative practices. This is a book to be savoured slowly. It invites you to take your time to reflect, and imagine. I tried going through Mapping in a linear fashion but found myself zigzagging through it instead.
I see Mapping as a companion to Martin Venezky's It is Beautiful Then Gone, an influential book that I've written about here
Whether you are a student or an artist wishing to go deeper into your practice, or to develop a concept for a new body of work, this book is worth your time and money.

Monday, 25 June 2012


When I start to clean my studio I know that I am ready to start a big project. Today I vacuumed thoroughly before grabbing a bucket of hot soapy water with a few drops of tea tree oil and a scrub brush. For a good hour I washed and scrubbed the floor until it was as spotless as a studio floor can be. When the floor was dry I started to clear surfaces like my ironing table and collage table. This was enough to get the juices flowing. The physical nature of cleaning prepares my mind and body for new work. This week I'm shipping work to a group show in British Columbia and I'm beginning the next phase of preparations for a solo show in 2013. It's a good time to have a clean studio–it means that I am not chickening out of the workload ahead of me!

Quotes: Shadows

"Find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates." – Junichiro Tanizaki, Japanese Author, In Praise of Shadows, 1933

"Most of the shadows of this life are caused by standing in one's own sunshine." – Ralph Waldo Emerson,  American author

Friday, 22 June 2012

Adobe Illustrator

The Third Eye; © Karen Thiessen, 2012
This week I took a break from practicing Adobe Illustrator. I had a good reason: a close friend from Halifax visited for nine days. She's an artist, so we explored Toronto, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Burlington, Dundas, and Hamilton together. It was a real treat to see the sights with a fellow artist. We ate lots of Asian food, we had quiet times where we went to separate parts of the house to chill out and read. We spent time outside drawing nature, we spent time in my studio. She brought a new game and taught my husband and me Carcassonne with the Rivers extension (I'm so hooked I bought the game, but sadly the Rivers extension is out of print, so I'll improvise it). I even showed her snippets of Wallander, convinced that as an artist she would appreciate its cinematography. She did. The best part is that after nine days together, we're better friends.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Japanese Fabrics

Japanese fabrics; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen 2012
Chance is a wonderful thing. In April my husband and I wandered onto Harbord Street in Toronto, a place that we hadn't visited in a very long time. We took a day to see new parts of the city and wandered here and there, just following our curiosity. Harbord Street was interesting: a mix of ordinary and almost trendy shops and restaurants. In the mix was Things Japanese, a Japanese decor and gifts shop. I have a thing for Japanese bowls and fabrics. Since we were walking, I passed on buying any bowls, but on the way out I spotted baskets of fabrics close to the floor. By chance I found Things Japanese, and again by chance, I spotted the fabrics. Last week I visited the shop again, this time with my friend visiting from out-of-town who as a Third Culture Kid spent 10 years of her childhood living in Japan. Naturally, I bought more fabric.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Thea Haines: Field Dress

Thea Haines Field Dress; Photo Credit: Karen Thiessen 2012
Although Thea Haines does not explicitly name her, I imagine Laura Secord was garbed in clothes like this when she risked life and limb and set out on June 22, 1813 to warn British forces of an impending American attack. Field Dress answers WWLW (What Would Laura Wear?). Thanks to Secord's bravery, the British won the Battle of Beaver Dams.
Thea Haines Field Dress; Photo Credit: Karen Thiessen 2012
Field Dress is an installation of five articles of clothing that Thea hand-stitched and dyed with natural dyes and is included in an exhibit, 1812-2012: A Contemporary Perspective, at York Quay Gallery, Harbourfront Centre in Toronto. In a post entitled Provisions for a Northern Climate (on her blog Domestic Scientist), she documents the making of this body of work. Thea is currently an MA Candidate in Textile Design at Chelsea College of Art and Design in London, UK. Thea provides more documentation on the Beehive Craft Collective blog here.
Thea Haines Field Dress; Photo Credit: Karen Thiessen 2012
Field Dress is presumably installed in the order, from left to right, of how the layers would have worn with those closest to the body on the left. Seeing the top image, I wonder how tall Laura Secord would have been. It's obvious that the installation does not address her height. If it did, the garments would be too short. Squinting at the top image, I mentally erase the hangers. Is it strongest with or without the hangers? A strength of the installation is that it moves with the air currents. Each time a person walks by Laura Secord's ghost responds. This made photographing the work difficult, but worth the challenge.
Thea Haines Field Dress; Photo Credit: Karen Thiessen 2012
I visited this show twice before writing this post. Each time I walked around the installation, I noticed new details that I appreciated. What is the text couched onto the dress? I couldn't quite make it out and this pleased me. Mystery is a good thing.
Thea Haines Field Dress; Photo Credit: Karen Thiessen, 2012
Thea Haines Field Dress; Photo Credit: Karen Thiessen, 2012
Looking at the above two images, it's clear that Thea wields a fierce embroidery needle. The contrast of the various embroidery thread textures is pleasing. I imagine that Thea's hands and wrists may have ached from so much stitching, especially with the chunky yarns. Field Dress offers the viewer much to contemplate.

1812-2012: A Contemporary Perspective continues until July 15, 2012 at York Quay Gallery, Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queen's Quay West, Toronto.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Fibre with a Difference: South Africa HANDS purse

When I wrote about this purse, I didn't have the information that came with it. Yesterday while looking for a photograph I found the info sheet. The purse was made by women who are part of HANDS. Quoting from the brochure:
Based in the Western Cape, South Africa, HANDS is an independent empowerment and skills training program for women who are victims of rape, including women who are HIV positive. Since its inception in November 2002 HANDS has grown from a home based business employing two women into a studio-based business employing about 30 women referred through the Helderberg Rape Crisis Center in Somerset West. The increase in employment is directly linked to an ever increasing demand from both local and international markets for the exclusive beadwork products designed and produced at HANDS. At HANDS women are provided with a safe, nurturing and creative environment while acquiring a range of skills that will enable them to become crafters and entrepreneurs in their own right.
Hands creates exclusive designs using up to 50,000 glass beads. Their exquisite functional artworks are a crossover from traditional indigenous tribal beadwork to contemporary design -- fusing knitting, weaving, embroidery, crocheting and macramé techniques. Weeks of dedication and patience combine aestheticism and functionality in a way that blurs the traditional boundaries between art and craft.
I looked for a direct link to HANDS, but was unable to find one. Seven years have passed since my beloved surprised me with this purse and I wonder if the HANDS fibre cooperative will celebrate their tenth anniversary this November. The above purse is an example of the beauty that can come out of great difficulty.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Quotes: Depth + Vision

"When greater depth is desired, it is often wise to lessen speed." – Old Chinese Proverb

"Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others." – Jonathan Swift, Anglo-Irish author

Friday, 15 June 2012

Week 23: Adobe Illustrator

Wonky Squares Pattern II © Karen Thiessen 2012
It's a good thing that I'm naturally a persistent and curious person. Otherwise, I would have abandoned learning Adobe Illustrator a few weeks ago. When I'm in a slump, I return to old patterns, seeing how I can recreate them using new skills. Wonky Squares is a variation of the Drunken Squares pattern that I shared on week 14. For this pattern, I distorted the squares using the direct selection tool and then added a dash of a second colour here and there. To top it all off, I layered the pattern on top of itself, shifting it slightly. Let's hope my curiosity and persistence hold up long enough for my motivation to return. 

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Heather Goodchild: The Wardens

The Wardens, Heather Goodchild; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen 2012 
The Wardens, Heather Goodchild; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen 2012 
Entering Heather Goodchild's The Wardens installation at Hamilton Artists Inc., one is immediately aware of the labour that has gone into every detail including the painted canvas walls, hooked rugs, inlaid patchwork textiles, and a herd of porcelain rabbits. There's a lot to take in. Once you've gotten over the painstaking handwork, you realize that you are walking through Heather Goodchild's imagination: The Wardens is the three-dimensional illustration of a story about a utopian society that believes that hard work will lead to spiritual purity. This fiction mirrors the real-life Mennonite emphasis of "faith without works is dead." Forget grace, you must earn your way to heaven.
The Wardens, Heather Goodchild; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen 2012 
The Wardens, Heather Goodchild; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen 2012 
The Wardens is comprised of five rooms and a long hallway, all divided by painted canvas panels. The above circular hooked rug occupies its own room. Heather painted the faces inlaid into the hooked rug with watercolour on felt. Impressive.
The Fire and the Knife, Heather Goodchild; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen 2012 
The Fire and the Knife occupies a front "room" in The Wardens. The backdrop is inlaid wool patchwork and the lamb is hooked. The inlaid patchwork boggles my mind.
The Wardens, Heather Goodchild; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen 2012 
Herd, Heather Goodchild; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen 2012 
The last room features a surreal installation of a herd of rabbits swarming an inlaid patchwork pillar. Walking through The Wardens is a strange, mysterious experience where one feels like Alice in Wonderland. The Wardens is up until Sunday June 24, 2012. The exhibition pamphlet features an essay by Thea Haines.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Studio Series: Shadow Transformation VI

Shadow Transformation VI quilt ©Karen Thiessen 2012
Shadow Transformation VI quilt detail ©Karen Thiessen 2012
Shadow: Transformation VI was fun to make. It started off as a sad quilt top that I pieced as a NSCAD student. The colours were all wrong and the top had no depth or contrast, so I abandoned it. While I was an artist-in-residence at Harbourfront, I over-dyed the top and the result is visual velvet. Normally I don't use polyester* in any of my textiles, but obviously some snuck in. The jolts of blue are cotton polyester fabrics that resisted the Procion dye. It works. Once dyed, I hired Jacqueline Harris to machine quilt the piece and when she brought it back to me, I went in and hand-quilted between the machine-quilted lines and then added the quilt binding. Transformation VI is 62.5" X 80" (158 cm X 203 cm)

* In another post I'll talk about polyester and off-gassing.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Sandra Brownlee: Shifu

Sandra Brownlee Departures & Returns Deluxe; Photo credit: Jack Ramsdale
A highlight of Sandra Brownlee's Departures and Returns Deluxe Edition was a six panel pull-out page with an image of her Shifu. Shifu is a Japanese technique of weaving cloth with threads of spun paper. In 1995 Sandra took a paper-spinning class at Arrowmont where she spun paper strips cut from photocopies of her notebook pages into thread. When she returned to her studio in Philadelphia, she wove the paper thread and unspun paper strips into a sample. She included her trademark supplementary weft and some tapestry weaving into the piece. Although the sample is black and white like her fine woven images, it has its own feel and character. Sandra's Shifu is visually complex and the more you look at it, the more you see. Spend some time with the bottom image and you'll see what I mean.

Sandra's Shifu holds my attention. That she has woven a textile with slivers of notebook pages spun into thread inspires me to look at my own cultural production and consider how to reinterpret copies of my textiles and sketchbook pages into new forms. This Shifu is embedded with meaning and mystery. What feelings, words and images are buried into this textile? Was weaving with coarse materials a big shift for Sandra, considering that she normally weaves fine images? Seeing this sample makes me want to see how Sandra would develop and integrate this technique further into her weaving practice. More, please.

When I asked her during a telephone interview if she intends to combine her weaving, stitching, notebook and collecting practices into one form, Brownlee replied that "weaving is a pure form, not material-oriented, and very graphic" and thus she intends to keep these practices separate. Well, sort of. On a visit to her studio last August she showed me one of her new projects: paper spinning. She has started to spin photocopies of her notebook pages into thread that she intends to weave with. Brownlee now has a desire to work more coarsely: notebook plus handwriting plus weaving in a more direct, stream-of-conscious way. I can't wait to see the results.
If the stars align this summer, I'll arrange a studio visit with Sandra and see if she's woven any Shifu recently. India Flint spun thread from Twinings tea bags. Check it out here.
Sandra Brownlee Shifu; Photo credit: Jack Ramsdale

Monday, 11 June 2012

Quotes: Fulghum

"I do not want to talk about what you understand about this world. I want to know what you will do about it. I do not want to know what you hope. I want to know what you will work for. I do not want your sympathy for the needs of humanity. I want your muscle." – Robert Fulghum, American author

Friday, 8 June 2012

Week 22: Adobe Illustrator

Wallander wheel
Wallander wheel motif © Karen Thiessen 2012
Wallander wheel pattern © Karen Thiessen 2012
I've hit a motivation wall in Illustrator. I'm still committed to learning the program five days a week, but I'm in a dull section of the book right now. Curiosity is a big pull for me so whenever I see a pattern I ask myself "How would I make that in Adobe Illustrator?" The other day I was watching a Wallander* DVD, a crime series filmed in Sweden, and I saw the ferris wheel in the top image. My curiosity kicked in and I played with replicating it. The motif is rather boring, but filled with colour and put into repeat, it has potential.

Swoon alert! *Wallander, starring Kenneth Branagh, is so gorgeously filmed that one could watch it again and again without sound. The images are high contrast and the light quality is breath-taking. The series is filmed using a digital Red camera. I know of few TV series or movies that are so visually exquisite. Oh, the story-lines and the acting are first-rate too. P.S. Anything you watch after Wallander will seem second-rate. Wallander has ruined me... in a good way.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Sketchbook Review II

Hands collage © Karen Thiessen 2012
Reviewing old sketchbooks is an interesting exercise. I see old things in new light. I connect past to present to launch new work. I see patterns of thinking and yearning. Synchronicity is at work in the review process. While sorting through old office files (procrastinating constructively) I found this quote:
"I called [Bob Dylan]. ... I said, "I am totally wigged out and I don't know what I am supposed to be doing, and I've got a lot of pressure to incorporate what's going on." He said, "Go back to your roots. Take out the albums that you loved and play those songs. Get your band together and rehearse those songs, and then you will start writing." And that's what I did." – Sheryl Crow, Rolling Stone, October 31, 2002.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Sandra Brownlee: Departures & Returns Deluxe 4

* This is part four 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, part two here, and part three here.
Departures & Returns Deluxe Edition by Sandra Brownlee; Photo credit: Jack Ramsdale
Sandra dedicated the Departures and Returns exhibition to her mother Vivian Brownlee and her father Marshall Brownlee. Inserted between the photos of her parents and her dedication essay is a special inclusion of red dot fabric cut from her Dartmouth studio curtains. This is a generous gift, a tactile link between the viewer and Sandra's studio, where she spins straw into gold, or rather, transforms ordinary cotton sewing thread into exquisite woven worlds.

When I visited Sandra's studio in the summer of 2010, I noticed a bare window in the ell of curtains. The studio, located in a former sunroom, is lined with windows on two sides. With the Deluxe Edition in my hands, I am free to touch Sandra's curtain pages. Are they a talisman of her energy that flows freely to unsuspecting viewers? Seeing the lovely curtains on her windows and in this book are one thing, the element of touch is quite another. To my surprise the opaque red dots are flocked and the texture is very pleasurable and comforting. I imagine that the dots form shadows on Sandra's studio walls and floor when the light is right.
Departures & Returns Deluxe Edition by Sandra Brownlee; Photo credit: Jack Ramsdale
A final gift to the fortunate owner of the Departures and Returns Deluxe Edition is a folio containing a distinct one-of-a-kind textile woven by Sandra. Each 5.5" X 7" weaving is a subtle variation on a theme. Some of the owners have framed their weavings, others have left them in the book. Sandra sees them as part of the book. A reminder: 30 Deluxe Editions equals about 20' of weaving (taking into account the thin hand-stitched hems). The woven textiles are an over-the-top act of generosity.

I'm embarrassed to admit that when Sandra loaned me the Deluxe Edition, I assumed that the folio would be empty. Although I slowly and carefully looked through the artist book several times, I didn't open the folio until I was curious about how the folds held it shut. When I gingerly opened it, I gasped. Tucked inside was an original weaving. With profound guilt and pleasure, I held it in my hands. The textile was much stiffer than I expected, it was like a page in itself. The warp and weft were off-white cotton sewing thread with black supplemental weft. To an untrained eye the black lines looked like fine hand embroidery. Being a textile person, I turned it over and looked at the back. In the lower left corner was embroidered the number 717. The top and bottom edges were neat with 1/4" hems that were done in a different weave from the body of the textile. My heart hammered as I contemplated this work of art. I knew that holding a work of Sandra Brownlee's art was a rare opportunity.
Departures & Returns Deluxe Edition by Sandra Brownlee; Photo credit: Jack Ramsdale
Reviewing Sandra Brownlee's Departures and Returns Deluxe Edition was an experiential education with Sandra and her Deluxe Edition as the teacher and me as the student. I took my time to go through it at a glacial pace and reflected on what I saw and felt at each page and inclusion, scribbling notes in the process. During a phone interview, Sandra told the story of each inclusion and this enriched my experience of the book. When I took the Tactile Notebooks and the Written Word workshop from Sandra in June 2011, she taught us to "see and respond." This multi-part essay is evidence that I saw and responded.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Quotes: Schopenhauer + Szasz

"To overcome difficulties is to experience the full delight of existence." – Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher

"What people really need and demand from life is not wealth, comfort or esteem, but games worth playing." – Thomas Szasz, Hungarian-born American psychiatrist

Friday, 1 June 2012

Week 21: Adobe Illustrator

Cross Tangents © Karen Thiessen 2012
Over the last three weeks I've shown you three of the thirteen Tangents quilts and on Wednesday I showed you my Tangents Pile 1. Last week I played around with importing Photoshop files into Adobe Illustrator and here is one of the results. I've layered a version of the Crossed pattern from a few weeks ago over Tangents Pile 1, which is a digital collage of all thirteen of the Tangents quilts layered with a reduced opacity.