Thursday, 31 January 2013

Constructive procrastination

Hexagons © Karen Thiessen, 2012
Recently I came across a New York Times article about positive procrastination written by John Tierney. I was surprised to learn that like me, other folks have discovered the benefits of procrastination. I call it constructive procrastination. This week I procrastinated by finishing all my bookkeeping for 2012, even though it is not due until April. Normally I don't enjoy bookkeeping, but this week I did. I've also made 14 containers of soup stock, even though I don't like cooking. Early in my career I procrastinated writing my CV by labelling and filing all my slides, I procrastinated writing a grant proposal by cleaning windows. If I'm filing slides and cleaning windows, I'm being super constructive in my procrastination, because those are two activities on my list of the least enjoyable things to do. I'd rather have a root canal than clean windows (it's true). In the end I wrote the CV and the grant proposal and, having built momentum by completing other odious tasks, the writing wasn't so painful after all.

Once in a while I'll procrastinate with an enjoyable activity. Hexagons is the result of pleasurable constructive procrastination from summer 2012. I also made two table runners and a few other projects while I was at it. While I was engrossed with English paper piecing, I realized that I wasn't doing what was most important, but I couldn't face my current studio project. Stitching the hexagons allowed my mind to subconsciously chew at the studio project, so that when I finally dove into it in September, it flowed effortlessly.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Visual Research 4

White textiles by Karen Thiessen, 2013
My tag series is progressing slowly. Here is some of what I'm looking at these days.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Dawn Hackett-Burns ceramics

Dawn Hackett Burns modules; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen, 2013
I've been watching the development of Dawn Hackett-Burns' ceramics practice for several years. She learned her craft under the tutelage of Colleen O'Reilly and for a while her work was heavily influenced by her teacher. When I saw the above ceramic modules, I knew that Hackett-Burns was coming into her own style, and what an exciting development! I'm a sucker for modular work, pattern, and the colour blue – so I couldn't resist snapping up a trio of her modules. They are almost 2" deep by 2" in diameter and you can buy them in a variety of colours and patterns at the gorgeous Art Gallery of Hamilton Annex on James Street North.  

Monday, 28 January 2013

Quotes: Enough

Perks quote illustrated by Karen Thiessen; Starhex with ovals pattern © Karen Thiessen, 2013
My dad sent me this quote and it resonated with me immediately. 'Enough' is an interesting concept in a society that craves more than enough. Thanks dad!

Friday, 25 January 2013

Week 52: Adobe Illustrator

Propellers © Karen Thiessen, 2013
Propellers is brought to you by a whole lot of messing around. This year the pattern ideas are coming to me nonstop (hey, I'm even dreaming about them) and I've been having so much fun that I haven't cracked the manual once. So much for reaching my 10,000 hours of deliberate practice any time soon. Or maybe not. After all, with each pattern I fail several times before I succeed, which means that I am learning and that I am getting acquainted with the nuances of each tool and technique. 

This week I played around with circle fragments and Propellers was the result of a happy accident as I was trying to create another pattern. I don't even remember if I ever did create what I had in mind, because I was on such a roll that I created at least 20 patterns this week... and the ideas keep flowing. Work begets work. Phooey to the folks who wait for inspiration to strike.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Jose Ortega @ James Street North Gallery

Jose Ortega Down in the Garden; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen, 2013
Jose Ortega Down in the Garden; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen, 2013
Next door to you me gallery on James St. North (in Hamilton, ON) is the James North Art Collective. Toronto-based, Ecuadoran-born, New York-educated Jose Ortega's collages are on exhibit in a two-person show with his mother, Juana Zuniga. Ortega masterfully combines paint and paper in his colourful collages. Never has a sugar bag looked so beautiful (Down in the Garden) with the cut paper revealing the painted and collaged surface below.
Jose Ortega Palo Paloma; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen, 2013
Jose Ortega Palo Paloma; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen, 2013
Girlie magazines and newspaper flyers are fair game in Ortega's hands. Immediately I was drawn to Ortega's collages and later I realized why. Ortega is the Artistic Director of Toronto's Lula Lounge, and I've been collecting their postcards for years.
Jose Ortega Walk in the Woods; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen, 2013
Jose Ortega Walk in the Woods; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen, 2013
Walk in the Woods has a warm patina. Unlike the collages in the above images, Walk in the Woods is more paint than paper. Regardless of the ratio of paint to paper, Ortega makes it all work.
Jose Ortega Galapagos; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen, 2013
Jose Ortega Galapagos; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen, 2013
Because of its scale (24" high by 60" wide) and technique (cut plywood over a painted wood background) Galapagos stood out from the other work. Although I am drawn to collage, Galapagos, with its finely cut botanical and zoological forms, is my favourite. At the technical level, I marvel that plywood could be cut so intricately. Did Ortega cut it all by hand or did he use a laser cutter? Either way, it's stunning. The Ortega-Zuniga exhibition continues until February 3, 2013.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Bryce Kanbara: Flyers @ you me gallery

Bryce Kanbara Flyers; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen, 2013
Bryce Kanbara Flyers; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen, 2013
Bryce Kanbara's Flyers exhibition at you me gallery on James St. North in Hamilton, Ontario is gorgeous. Only when I was processing the photos did I realize that I don't have an overall installation shot of the gallery. The Flyers are all manner of winged creatures, mostly bird-like, and one that resembles a winged woman. He created the armatures from plywood and then clad most of them with metal scavenged from an old barn and some from the grocery store (disposable aluminum baking trays). The printing plates were found lining the walls of the barn and their patina contrasts nicely with the newer aluminum. The Flyer in the top image is massive. The ceiling is about 10 feet tall, just to give you a sense of scale.
Bryce Kanbara Flyers; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen, 2013
Bryce Kanbara Flyers; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen, 2013
I love the organic shapes that form what I interpret to be the bird's feet: they make me think of clouds and poodles and topiary trees clipped into imaginative shapes.
Bryce Kanbara Flyers; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen, 2013
Bryce Kanbara Flyers; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen, 2013
This is my favourite piece. It is the smallest and dearest. I'd guess that it's about 30 inches by 30 inches and I would love to hang it over my bed and dream below its wings. Flyers continues until February 3, 2013.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013


Laminate pattern; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen, 2012
This is my absolute favourite time of the year. The mercury has plummeted and I am grateful for our furnace. My hubby and I had a few walks on the weekend decked out in heavy jackets and snow pants. I followed our winter walks with hot tea and a pile of design books and magazines by my side. My mission is to reduce my inventory of old Elle Decoration UK and Livingetc. magazines by pulling clippings, processing the images (gluing them into my sketchbook and then reflecting on them), and then purging the magazines. The pull/process/purge routine worked well and now my 2009 mags are in the recycle bin. My goal is to get through the 2010 mags by the end of February and to process every clipping that I pull so that I am not left with another tower of loose pages. What is catching my eye? Pattern, of course. My sketchbook is filling with all manner of pattern that I am eager to replicate in Adobe Illustrator. This year I've discovered the power of replicating patterns: it's ramped up my learning of AI big time.

The above image is from a table top at the Humani-T Cafe in Halifax, Nova Scotia where I had the best-ever vegan strawberry gelato in August 2012. This pattern boggles my mind and I won't be attempting to replicate it any time soon.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Quotes: Einstein

Einstein quote illustrated by Karen Thiessen with Razzle Dazzle pattern © Karen Thiessen, 2013

Friday, 18 January 2013

Week 51: Adobe Illustrator

Diamond Snowflakes © Karen Thiessen, 2013
We've had strange weather lately. Last weekend was unseasonably warm (60 degrees Fahrenheit) here in Ontario, but friends wintering down South reported that it was in the 45 degree F range. Most of our snow melted last weekend and we enjoyed long walks free of cumbersome winter gear. It's snowing again, which is good, because I love a proper winter with cold weather and snow. I've learned to trade off fashion to be warm and dry, and that is the key to a happy winter.

Diamond Snowflakes is an homage to a true Canadian winter.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

TOAE 2012: Noelle Hamlyn

Noelle Hamlyn textiles; Photo credit Karen Thiessen, 2012
Noelle Hamlyn's work is calm, quiet and thoughtful, a lot like Noelle herself. It invites you to step closer and spend time with it. Last year I wrote about her work here. Since the last TOAE, she's created a new body of work called Sweetness of the Work.
Noelle Hamlyn textiles; Photo credit Karen Thiessen, 2012
An essay accompanied the new series. Essentially the series embodies women's textile hand work, especially the repetition and the accumulation involved in creating traditional textiles.
Noelle Hamlyn textiles; Photo credit Karen Thiessen, 2012
Hamlyn soaked some of the textiles in a saline solution and you can see the salt crystals in the images above and below. The salt encrusted textiles are a metaphor for the sweat and tears shed by the textile worker. The wrapped and salt encrusted scissors and the needle case below will change with time. Rust will set in and the textiles will deteriorate.
Noelle Hamlyn textiles; Photo credit Karen Thiessen, 2012
The work is delicate and thought-provoking.
Noelle Hamlyn textiles; Photo credit Karen Thiessen, 2012
The textile above and its detail below appear to be made using free-motion machine embroider. Beautiful.
Noelle Hamlyn textiles; Photo credit Karen Thiessen, 2012

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Studio Series: Children's Art Quilt

The children's art quilt that I wrote about last year is taking shape. It's on the frame and I am slowly hand-quilting it. The last time that I hand-quilted a large quilt was six years ago and now I've noticed that my neck, back, and wrists aren't terribly happy when I sit at the frame for too long. One week I put in eighteen hours as I listened to an Ian Rankin audio book and that was a poor choice. My intention is to make two quilts and I'll have to learn how to machine-quilt the second one. Fortunately the gals at Needlework have a walking-foot and in the next few weeks I'll head out there to learn how to use it. Once the first quilt is finished I'll share photos with you.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013


Grandma's tracings © Karen Thiessen, 2012
Almost six years have passed since my Grandma died. She was an avid quilter, needleworker, seamstress, and all round crafter. When she died I inherited her sewing cabinet chocked full of supplies which included all her used basting threads from the previous 40 years that she had wound onto bobbins and Grandpa's used underwear elastic that she rolled into neat balls. Amidst the evidence of Grandma's frugality were thimbles, needles, balls of crochet yarn, and a few packets of marking paper. The marking paper is beautiful and I'm pleased to have a few remaining reminders of the mark that she made on my life.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Quotes: Rainer Maria Rilke

Rilke quote illustrated by Karen Thiessen, 2012 
Giant Pinwheel pattern in background © Karen Thiessen, 2012

Friday, 11 January 2013

Week 50: Adobe Illustrator

Starhex © Karen Thiessen, 2013
I don't know what most people dream about, but lately I've been dreaming in Adobe Illustrator. For hours of my REM sleep, I'm developing new patterns and solving technical issues. Starhex is one of those patterns that I literally dreamed up. The dreams are so intense and so frequent that I've been logging longer hours than usual playing with AI during my waking hours. The manual remains untouched, but I'm rediscovering tools that I learned months ago and am putting them to new use.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Dave Hind & the AQS @ TH&B2

Dave Hind & the Aluminum Quilting Society Cottage Industrious; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen, 2012
Waaaay back in May 2012 I saw this Cottage Industrious and Sustainable Shelter for Beyond the Age of Extinctions installation of Dave Hind and the Aluminum Quilting Society (Gord Pullar, Daniel Hill, Roan Bateman, Sarah Copoc, Dawn Hackett, the Woodleys, and more...) at the TH&B2 exhibition in Hamilton, Ontario. It is made from reclaimed aluminum, salvaged windows, rivets, and plenty of collective talent, imagination, and elbow grease. Awesome.
Dave Hind & the Aluminum Quilting Society Cottage Industrious; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen, 2012
Dave Hind & the Aluminum Quilting Society Cottage Industrious; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen, 2012
The statement for the show reads as follows: "Sustainable Shelter for Beyond the Age of Extinctions is a small 10ft X14 ft habitat that will be made from reclaimed materials. It will be a fully functioning cabin with sleeping loft, kitchenette, and living space, and will eventually act as accommodations for interns working on organic, education, CSA, farms in the area. The central image is based on a 1950s Life magazine photo of a Styrofoam igloo implemented by the Ministry of Northern Affairs ("

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Sara Hartland-Rowe @ MSVU

Sara Hartland-Rowe, Now as at all times, 2012
In August I saw Sara Hartland-Rowe: Look to the Living, curated by Ingrid Jenkner at the Mount Saint University Art Gallery in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I first saw the work of Sara Hartland-Rowe in Small World at the Textile Museum of Canada in 1998. A small stitched drawing of a King and Queen in bed is firmly stuck in my memory bank. Hartland-Rowe teaches painting at NSCAD.
Sara Hartland-Rowe, Now as at all times, 2012 detail
Although Look to the Living was mostly populated with paintings, two installations of drawn modules, Now as at all times and Untitled, were what drew me in. Big time. Now as at all times is an installation of ink drawings on paper. Hartland-Rowe created an environment for the figures with subtle painting and drawing on the wall. I could have spent hours happily taking it all in had I not had a parking meter ticking down.
Sara Hartland-Rowe, Now as at all times, 2012 detail
Sara Hartland-Rowe, Untitled, 2012
Now as at all times was a warm up for Untitled which is an installation of ink drawings on silk organza. The colourful figures read well and I was smitten with how Hartland-Rowe took advantage of the transparency of the organza. I'd like to know how she cut out the shapes without the edges fraying. Untitled is one piece that I'd love to share my enthusiasm for with multiple exclamation marks. But I won't.
Sara Hartland-Rowe, Untitled, 2012 detail
This bottom figure captured my imagination. Don't you love the expressive line quality and the mystery figure lurking behind/within the blindfolded fellow? Yowza!
Sara Hartland-Rowe, Untitled, 2012 detail

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Whiten, Weppler & Mahovsky @ Soft, MSVU

Colette Whiten There there, 1994
Soft was an exhibition of textile-based work by Gary Markle, Anna Torma, Colette Whiten, Rhonda Weppler and Trevor Mahovsky from the Mount Saint Vincent University collection, curated by Katie Belcher and held in the upper MSVU art gallery. A pocket-sized catalogue complete with essays and colour photographs accompanied the exhibit. MSVU is located in Halifax, Nova Scotia and I caught the show just before it ended in mid-August.

I first saw this Colette Whiten piece commissioned for the Survivors In Search of a Voice: The Art of Courage (1995-1996) touring exhibition which began at the Royal Ontario Museum in 1995. It was gifted to the MSVU from the Amesbury/Chalmers Collection in 2005. There there is made from glass bead fringe suspended from aluminum angle wall mounts. Its dimensions are 132 x 190 x 31 cm. There there are the empty words that doctors offer when trying to comfort their breast cancer patients when they say: "There, there, there. It's going to be all right." 
Colette Whiten There there detail, 1994
There there reads like a pixel message board that offers hollow comfort instead of stock market information.
Rhonda Weppler & Trevor Mahovsky Shopping Cart II, 2007
I almost didn't photograph Shopping Cart II, but it was one of those artworks that snuck slyly into my subconscious and then stayed put. It was made on site at the MSVU Art Gallery. If you haven't guessed already, Shopping Cart II was "cast" from the humblest of materials: aluminum foil. Weppler and Mahovsky embossed a cart with sheets of foil, removed it and then glued the "cast" together. The piece made in 2007 is extremely fragile and reads like a discarded and abandoned corpse. Given the frail nature of the piece, I was surprised that it was exhibited on the floor of the gallery rather than on a low plinth. Shopping Cart II is 84 x 108 x 8 cm.
Rhonda Weppler & Trevor Mahovsky Shopping Cart II detail, 2007

Monday, 7 January 2013

Quotes: Thomas Friedman

Friedman quote illustrated by Karen Thiessen with Crosses III pattern © Karen Thiessen, 2012

Friday, 4 January 2013

Week 49: Adobe Illustrator

Wavy Diamond Grid © Karen Thiessen, 2013
On my path to teaching myself Adobe Illustrator I've found that one thing leads to another. A few weeks back I discovered how to create specific angle triangles and that approach led me to look at the potential of harvesting "overlaps" to create compound shapes. The base pattern for Wavy Diamond Grid is built on the intersection (shape) of two overlapping circles that I put into repeat. When I look at the above pattern, I am reminded of the lining of an old sleeping bag circa 1970.

This year I intend to continue teaching myself AI and I hope to make it through the entire manual by December. My curiosity takes me off on long tangents that simultaneously slow and speed the learning process. The tangents take me deeper into the program, allowing me to test ideas and features and thus make new discoveries. At the same time, the tangents slow my progress through the book. I've discovered that the key to maintaining the momentum of self-education is to follow my curiosity, even if it slows me down. 

Thank you to you all who have offered encouragement and positive feedback on my Adobe Illustrator learning process and my resulting patterns. I appreciate your support!

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Markle @ Soft, MSVU

Gary Markle, Conical Fields 1998-2000
Soft was an exhibition of textile-based work by Gary Markle, Anna Torma, Colette Whiten, Rhonda Weppler and Trevor Mahovsky from the Mount Saint Vincent University collection, curated by Katie Belcher and held in the upper MSVU art gallery. A pocket-sized catalogue complete with essays and colour photographs accompanied the exhibit. MSVU is located in Halifax, Nova Scotia and I caught the show just before it ended in mid-August.

Conical Fields was constructed with orange velvet and stuffed with foam chips. He was inspired by the work of Naoko Furue, Elspeth Pratt, Martha Townsend, and Yayoi Kusama.
Gary Markle, Conical Fields 1998-2000 detail
Gary Markle, Shag-Rag Rug 1995
Shag-Rag Rug was woven on a narrow loom that Markle constructed from discarded hockey sticks and other refuse. He used synthetic carpet yarn from an out-of-business mill for the warp. The weft is comprised of cloth strips from clothing donated by NSCAD students. Shag-Rag Rug was part of Markle's MFA Thesis project in Textiles at NSCAD. He graduated in 1995 and now is an Assistant Professor in the Textiles/Fashion department at NSCAD.
Gary Markle, Shag-Rag Rug 1995 detail
Shag-Rag Rug is versatile in how it is exhibited. I've seen it laid out flat on the ground and in the August show it looks like a creature trying to escape the gallery. Markle has also worn it over his shoulders in his performance art.