Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Thoughts for 2015

Chandelier; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2010
A new year is upon us. Some of you are goal-setters or setters of New Year's Resolutions. Here are a few thoughts to consider:

1. Life is messy. The sooner you accept this, the more joyful you will be.

2. Forget happiness. Joy is a better choice and it's an inside job: you cultivate it yourself.

3. Adaptability and resilience are key qualities if you want to thrive and not just survive when life throws you curve balls.

4. Expectation will make you miserable and constantly disappointed. Let go of it and learn to accept "what is" versus "how you think things should be."

5. Perfection is an illusion. Imperfection is real, attainable, and far more interesting.

6. Be open and curious. Ask questions, read widely, seek out new experiences.

7. Look up and around. Walk away from your screens and unplug. Have face-to-face conversations with your friends and family. Play a card game, go for a walk.

8. Learning is life-long. Learn something new in 2015. Teach yourself a new skill or habit. Take a class. Ask a friend or family member to teach you something that you are curious about. Interview your elders while they are still around. You'll be glad you did and you'll learn something.

9. Experiment with a new behaviour. Try it on for a few days, weeks, or months. Make it fun. Document the experience: what works, what doesn't, how you feel.

10. Look for the beauty and humour in all experiences, especially the challenging ones. Life is messy, imperfect, and oblivious to your expectations. It will throw you curve balls when you least expect it. Humour and beauty are always present even during the darkest times.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Quotes: Old Russian Proverb

"If you dwell on the past you will lose the sight of one eye. If you forget the past you lose the sight of both eyes." –– Old Russian Proverb

This quote is especially apt as we prepare for a new year and set goals with the intention of changing our lives. What from our pasts do we wish to leave behind, and what do we wish to carry forward into the future?

Friday, 26 December 2014

Maggie Leininger: Specimen

Specimen by Maggie Leininger (image from a SDA conference brochure)
A few years ago I came upon this image of Maggie Leininger's Specimen in a Surface Design Association conference brochure. This ongoing series, presented in glass-topped aluminum watchmaker's cases, examines molecular microscopic images. I've been thinking about modular art since 2005, and Specimen fit the bill. Inspired, I bought a set of watchmaker's cases and discovered that if you insert a small circular rare-earth magnet between the textile and the tin, you can install the cases on the wall (you have to put a steel nail or screw with a decent sized head into the wall first for the magnet to work). Leininger's website is worth a long look. I especially appreciate her socially-engaged woven artwork, Rhythm, with Snow City Arts. Data visualization is on my radar and, once again, Leininger's Rhythm fits the bill.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Merry Christmas 2014!

Winter barn scene; Photo © Karen Thiessen
I wish you all a blessed 2014 Christmas season!

Monday, 22 December 2014

Quotes: John Cage

"The attitude I take is that everyday life is more interesting than forms of celebration, when we become aware of it. That when is when our intentions go down to zero. Then suddenly you notice that the world is magical." –– John Cage (1912-1992), American composer, author, artist (quote found in Every Day is a Good Day: The Visual Art of John Cage, by John Cage, Jeremy Millar et al., p. 62)

Recently I bought two John Cage books: the aforementioned text, and Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists by Kay Larson at City Lights Books while in San Francisco. Since then, I've been engrossed (obsessed) with John Cage's influences, processes, and thinking. Both books are very well written and very readable and I can't put them down. I see several other John Cage books in my near future.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Nui Project embroidery

Nui Project embroidered shirts**
Writing about Dorothy Caldwell's Silent Ice/Deep Patience textiles has made me acutely aware of expressive stitching. As I continue my Lenten Intuitive mark-making practice, I've introduced experimental stitching into the mix. Here are two more images from the Nui project books. I have profound admiration for the Nui project artists.

These images are from Nui Project 2. **The above shirts were embroidered by (Top row left to right): Mikio Hamada; Machiko Yonetoku & Hatsune Doi; Natsumi Yokobaba & Noriko Fukumori; (Bottom row left to right): Mikio Hamada, Machiko Ikeyama & Aki Nozawa; Naoki Fujimura.
Nui Project embroidery detail of Keisuke Nomaguchi's textile
Each of us has our own intelligence. The embroidery of the Nui project artists exemplifies their deep engagement with intuitive stitching, not an easy feat.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Mixed Bag: Pattern, Travel, and John Cage

Tivoli building, Copenhagen; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2013
My husband and I recently returned from San Francisco, where we walked eight hours a day up and down the steep hills, ate delicious dim sum, and perused the numerous independent bookstores. Airports, plane rides and evenings in our hotel room gave me plenty of time in neutral spaces (no computer, no household tasks, no studio, no phone calls) to think and read. Travel is ideal for entertaining new perspectives.

It's that time of year where I think about the big picture and I've been thinking about patterns: both of the flat-pattern repeat and the behavioural/thought varieties. I see some art work on the horizon that will address both varieties, although I don't know how at this point. Being away gave me time to engage in some fuzzy thinking: a starting point for new ventures.
Tivoli building detail, Copenhagen; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2013
At City Lights Books I found five John Cage books and bought two. It was difficult to leave with only two, but it was the beginning of the day and books are heavy to carry up and down hills for hours at a time. My interest in the thinking and work of John Cage has intensified.

The photos of the Tivoli building are from our trip to Copenhagen last year. I love the lacy pattern. 

Monday, 15 December 2014

Quotes: Kinnie Starr

"The purpose of art is to illuminate contradictions."  
–– Kinnie Starr (b. 1970), Canadian Aboriginal singer-songwriter. Source: CBC Radio One Definitely Not the Opera interview, October 23, 2014.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Studio Series: Chortitza oak leaf drawings

Chortitza oak leaves drawing © Karen Thiessen, 2014
My Lenten intuitive mark-making practice continues. I drew these colourful Chortitza oak leaves (Quercus robur) while on the phone with family and friends.
Chortitza oak leaf drawing © Karen Thiessen, 2014
I drew this black-and-white Chortitza oak leaf while sitting in church.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Dorothy Caldwell Silent Ice Deep Patience @ AGP 11

Dorothy Caldwell Walking on Tundra, 2013; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Walking on Tundra is 26"X 53" and is mounted on industrial felt. The acid green is the colour of moss.
Dorothy Caldwell Walking on Tundra, detail 2013; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Fine and chunky stitching on appliqués. A dash of pink provides a complementary contrast to the acid green.
Dorothy Caldwell Quiet Place: Willow & Arctic Moss, 2012; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Quiet Place: Willow & Arctic Moss is another one of my favourites in this exhibition. Maybe one day I'll gather all my favourites in a separate blog post. Quiet Place is 23"X 23" and is mounted on industrial felt. It is a merging of Dorothy's signature wax and silkscreen resist with her new plant dyed textiles.
Dorothy Caldwell Quiet Place: Willow & Arctic Moss, 2012; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
This appliqué appears to be plant dyed.

All photos were taken with permission from Dorothy Caldwell and the fine staff of the Art Gallery of Peterborough.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Quotes: Charles H. Spurgeon

"Your emptiness is but the preparation for your being filled, and your casting down is but the making ready for your lifting up." –– Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892), British author and pastor

Friday, 5 December 2014

Dorothy Caldwell Silent Ice Deep Patience @ AGP 10

Dorothy Caldwell Fjord, 2008; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Fjord, How Do We Know It's Night? and Signs are all monumental. Fjord is 8'6" X 8'8" and is the oldest textile in the exhibition.
Dorothy Caldwell Fjord, 2008; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
The details are gorgeous. I especially enjoy the appliqués of older textiles.
Dorothy Caldwell Fjord, 2008; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
As always, the stitching is exquisite.
Dorothy Caldwell Signs, 2014; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Signs is 8'9" X 8'8". I would love to have a close look at the upper details.
Dorothy Caldwell Signs, 2014; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
A discharged appliqué with acid green couched thread.
Dorothy Caldwell Signs, 2014; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Dorothy Caldwell Signs, 2014; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Dorothy brings the back to the front with white couched thread over white silkscreen resist lines.
Dorothy Caldwell Signs, 2014; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Dorothy Caldwell How Do We Know When It's Night?, 2010; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
How Do We Know It's Night is 10' X 9'6" and is the largest and second oldest textile in the exhibition. 
Dorothy Caldwell How Do We Know When It's Night?, 2010; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
 Appliqués border the textile.
Dorothy Caldwell How Do We Know When It's Night?, 2010; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
I counted seven lines (six strands each) of white and off-white embroidery floss.
Dorothy Caldwell How Do We Know When It's Night?, 2010; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Another appliqué of old textiles. 

All photos were taken with permission from Dorothy Caldwell and the fine staff of the Art Gallery of Peterborough.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Studio Series: Zwieback drawings

Zwieback drawings © Karen Thiessen, 2014
I drew these Zwieback as a continuation of my Lenten intuitive mark-making practice. It's been 275 days since I began and I've practiced almost 190 hours. That's an average of 41 minutes per day.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014


Making Zwieback with mom; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen's husband, 2014
On a recent visit, my mom saw my dried lumpy Zwieback (purchased at a Mennonite Relief sale) on display under a cloche in my dining room. She told me that the person who made it didn't let it rise properly or didn't use enough flour. Mom has super powers like that. I shared my fantasy of having enough Zwieback to fill a cloche. That's when Superwoman decided that she would teach me how to make them the next morning. We dug the recipe out of a Mennonite cookbook and I made copious notes. Mennonite cookbooks are pretty cryptic for the novice. Thank goodness for mom's directions.

My favourite part was the pinching of the dough. To be honest, my mom mixed and kneaded the dough before I was fully functional. She's an extreme morning person. I'm not.
Zwieback rising; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Zwieback is a big deal among Dutch German, a.k.a Russian, Mennonites. It dries nicely and is very light so one can tuck them into pockets and eat them on a long journey while fleeing for your life. Zwieback nourished my grandparents and great-grandparents on their long treks out of Russia, across the Atlantic on the ship Minnedosa to Canada in the 1920s.
Zwieback straight out of the oven; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Clearly my pan wasn't big enough for the Zwieback to double without touching each other.
Zwieback on Oma's cooling rack; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
When my aunt died, I inherited my Oma's baking rack on which thousands of Zwieback, brown bread, and cookies likely cooled. My unMennonite allergies don't allow me to eat Zwieback, but according to my husband they were very, very, very good. I set aside the seven best looking Zwieback and have been drawing them as I continue my Lenten Intuitive mark-making practice. One day I'll share  the images. I'd like to bake Zwieback with my mom again, next time with larger baking pans: I have a cloche to fill.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Quotes: Eva Jessye

"They say you should not suffer through the past. You should be able to wear it like a loose garment, take it off and let it drop." –– Eva Jessye (1895-1992) Internationally renowned American choral conductor (quote found in National Geographic, August 1989, p. 225)

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Life is messy

Daylily stamen © Karen Thiessen's husband, 2014
The end of the year is in sight and I've been thinking about 2014 and all it has offered to date. Two successive car accidents caused by one distracted driver within a 45 minute time-frame in early April were my big rupture events of the year. One result is that I have a renewed sense of urgency: time is finite and I still have much to do. 

Another effect is that I've come to accept that life is messy. Although I'm not a perfectionist, prior to the accident I believed that if I worked long and hard enough, the messy corners of my life could be tidied... eventually. Not true. Regardless of time, effort, and intention some of my relationships will be messy. When my studio is tidy, my office will be a mess and when the garden looks fantastic, the windows will be dirty. Learning to acknowledge mess has resulted in improved family relationships. Accepting mess requires self-discipline, and this is counter-intuitive. Some things/relationships can't be repaired or neat all of the time, and others that have this potential, aren't necessarily worth the time investment. Life is short. I'd rather have a vibrant studio practice than a perfect house.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Studio Series: Screen prints 3

Screen print over collage © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Last week I printed a Post Office Grille and Rooster Comb pattern over a variety of papers. Over the years I have amassed piles of colour copies of collages and patterns that I was unable to use in a satisfying way. Many of the collages were from my learning years, and although colourful, weren't good. Above is one of those bad collages vastly improved with the Post Office Grille and Rooster Comb pattern duo. I can't wait to cut it up and collage with it.
Screen print over Tangents quilt collage © Karen Thiessen, 2014
If you look closely, you may recognize the base print as being the Tangents quilt header image for my blog.
Screen print over old magazine photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Screen printing over old magazine photos continues to be interesting.
Screen prints over collage © Karen Thiessen, 2014
As I wrote in my first screen print post, I'm printing over collages and other screen prints. I really like the interaction of the Waves and Post Office Grille patterns. The base paper for the above print is a truly bad collage.
Screen print over Bars collage © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Post Office Grille pattern over a colour copy of a Bars collage. This week I've been collaging tags with my screen printed papers and using the prints is helping me to assess how a print will work or not work. I now have a pile of prints that I will screen print over with new patterns. I can't wait.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Quotes: Michael Haneke

"I'm lucky enough to be able to make films and so I don't need a psychiatrist. I can sort out my fears and all those things with my work. That's an enormous privilege. That's the privilege of all artists, to be able to sort out their unhappiness and their neuroses in order to create something." –– Michael Haneke (b. 1942), Austrian film director and screenwriter

Friday, 21 November 2014

Studio Series: Screen prints 2

Screen print 4 © Karen Thiessen, 2014
In my screen print class I've been testing patterns that I designed while learning Adobe Illustrator. Since there are so many, I've been exposing my screens with two patterns. By the end of ten weeks, I'll have tested eight patterns. I'm only printing papers for the purposes of collage, so I don't need large prints of each pattern. Above is a Zig Zag and Dots duo on a security-patterned envelope.
Screen print 5 © Karen Thiessen, 2014
The same Dots pattern on one of my acrylic ink/Chartpak marker Lent drawings.
Screen print 3 © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Here's a less successful print of a Spiral/Waves duo on a colour copy of a textile that I pieced together from fragments of old kimonos.

I bought a pack of 100 acetates and have been playing with making marks with a variety of materials on them. I'm curious to see how they will translate to prints on paper. 

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Power Spot: Chester Bench

Chester bench; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
I took this photo in early September when it was still warm. It's mid-November now and we have snow. This Chester bench is one of two facing the Chester Basin, but this one is my bench and I return to it with each visit to Nova Scotia. My husband and I pack a simple picnic lunch of St. Mary's maple smoked salmon, cherry tomatoes, and an avocado and we eat it while seated on the bench.
Chester bench; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Flanking the bench are wild roses, which smell divine. They connect me to my childhood. I can't explain what draws me to this spot, or why I find it so powerful. I'm not really a sit-on-a-bench kind of gal (unless I have something to draw or stitch). The bench is nicely weathered and offers up beautiful rubbings of its wood grain. 

My only other power spot would be my studio. The moment that I cross its threshold I am invigorated, which is great except on weekends and in the evening when I should be getting to bed. Do you have a power spot?

Monday, 17 November 2014

Quotes: Marcus Aurelius

"The secret of all victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious." –– Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor

Friday, 14 November 2014

Studio Series: Screen prints!

Screenprint 1 on collage © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Autumn has been rather busy with natural dyeing, the usual collage and stitching, and my first silkscreen-on-paper class. Years ago, I was trained to print on fabric. The program was rigorous and there was no time to play. After graduation, I never wanted to screen print again. That changed when my friend Bob raved about his class with a young artist. This reminded me of all the things that I wanted to try while in school and all the patterns that I have created in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop in the intervening years. So, I took the plunge and signed up. The teacher, students, and non-toxic studio are a perfect fit. The students are a range of ages from a high school student, a retired teacher, and several graphic designers and we learn from each other. The teacher is knowledgeable and she provides support and encouragement for each of our interests. I'm obsessed with experimenting and making messes. Above is a print on a colour copy of a collage that was part of a commission. I'll cut it up and collage with it another time.
Screenprint on painting © Karen Thiessen, 2014
This is the same pattern printed on a crappy painting on paper. I can't wait to cut it up and collage with it. I've been printing on all manner of old collages and assorted papers. When one print doesn't work out, I print another layer over it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. In this class I'm not aiming for perfection or even excellence. I just explore, make messes, and learn. Since I have more patterns and ideas than I have time to print in the ten week session, I'm planning to register for the next round of classes.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Dorothy Caldwell Silent Ice/Deep Patience @ AGP 9

Dorothy Caldwell Collecting cards (journal); Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
In her 2003 In Good Repair solo exhibition at the Textile Museum of Canada Dorothy displayed several bound notebooks (along with white cotton gloves with which to handle them) in which she had made marks with ink and with burning/scorching. Collecting cards is a notebook in another form. One hundred and twelve cards are pinned to the wall with three-inch black specimen pins. The cards are about 2" X 3" and appear to be heavy cotton rag paper, similar to BFK Rives printmaking paper. The edges are nicely deckled and I wonder if Dorothy purchased the cards this way or if she moistened the heavy paper and then tore it against a sharp edge.
Dorothy Caldwell Collecting cards (journal); Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
The Collecting cards are small intimate studies that Dorothy stitched, wrapped, marked with earth ochre, ink, and appliquéd with plant material (leaves, small flowers).
Dorothy Caldwell Collecting cards (journal); Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Together they resemble an ancient alphabet.
Dorothy Caldwell Collecting cards (journal); Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Note the layers of shadows cast by the cards.
Dorothy Caldwell Collecting cards (journal); Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
A stitched leaf. Could it be eucalyptus?
Dorothy Caldwell Collecting cards (journal); Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Earth ochre, stitching, plant matter, and black charcoal marks.
Dorothy Caldwell Collecting cards (journal); Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Dorothy Caldwell Collecting cards (journal); Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
The middle card is adorned with either delicate plant matter or dead mosquitoes.
Dorothy Caldwell Collecting cards (journal); Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Collecting cards was one of my favourite parts of the exhibition. The cards are very personal and reveal the research and thinking behind Dorothy's new work.

All photos were taken with permission from Dorothy Caldwell and the fine staff of the Art Gallery of Peterborough.