Monday, 31 March 2014

Studio Series: Wolf collage

Wolf collage © Karen Thiessen, 2014
One summer I visited Halifax and made this Wolf collage in my sketchbook using materials that I found or made on my travels. Some of the materials come from tattered posters hanging off utility poles, others come from the plethora of free magazines (The Coast publishes several each year), and some are by hand. The stars are rubbings from a metal plate from the Lunenburg Opera building, removed when they renovated the building.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Photoshop: Berry Tree pattern

Berry Tree pattern © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Berry Tree is the result of mucking around with triangles in Photoshop. My Illustrator practice is taking a backseat to my Lenten practice of intuitive mark-making. I'm still obsessed and still can't stop at 15 minutes of practice. I draw for an average of 48 minutes a day. It's still meditative and by spending so much time with this practice, I'm developing skills and making accidental discoveries. I'll share my results with you in another post.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Amsterdam: Random Goodness II

Amsterdam canal; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2013
Ever the contrarian, I have mixed feelings about spring. It is arriving slowly. Yesterday I went for a walk in the warmish (5ºC) sunshine, wearing fewer layers but still donning a hat and warm boots. Then it snowed a bit. Then the sun came out again. Yup, a Canadian spring is in the works. I digress. I've now had six weeks without large deadlines hanging over my head and I've been in the studio long hours developing two new bodies of work (and cleaning, organizing, and purging). Once spring is here I'll have distractions that will force me to put in more reasonable hours: dirty windows and the garden will beckon. I'll want to walk for hours at a time, I'll want to take day trips and picnics.    
Sculpture in tree; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2013
Soon it will be April. At some point the trees will bud and unfurl tender green leaves. Most of the garden will come back to life. Some of it won't. We've had a brutal winter. Things die. The squirrels are hungry. What isn't dead, they'll want to eat. 
Panel van; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2013
Looking at these Amsterdam pictures, I am reminded of how beneficial taking 15 days away from the studio and seeing new sights was for my art practice. I came back refreshed and renewed. The garden needs my help. I need the garden's help to re-energize me, to give me space from my work so that I can see it more clearly. Just like Canada has seasons, so too does my studio practice. What about you? Does your creative practice have distinct "seasons"?

Monday, 24 March 2014

Studio Series: undomestic hanger 2

undomestic: hanger 2; © Karen Thiessen, 2012
Here's another piece from my undomestic series.
undomestic: hanger 2 detail© Karen Thiessen, 2012
The metal "buckle" is from ancient slip shoulder strap.

Yesterday I spent a rare day immersed in studio work. Normally I don't work on Sundays (okay, I DO stitch on Sundays) but I was alone and I moved my perch to the dining room where I pulled clippings from a tower of magazines and then processed them by adding them to my sketchbook and reflecting on them while listening to CBC Radio One Spark, Tapestry, Writers and Company, and then music from my ancient computer. I filled 24 pages which was mentally exhausting– so much visual imagery all at once! In the next few days I know that insights will come crashing in thanks to this day of cramming full my inspiration well. Sometimes you just need to overload the circuits to produce sparks.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Studio Series: Postal Collage

Postal collage © Karen Thiessen, 2014
These postal marks are a thing of the past and I'm glad that I collected them when I did and that I actually used them instead of just hoarding more paper.

Yesterday I organized my studio in preparation for two new bodies of work. Year after year, the roll-up-the-sleeves work always begins with cleaning and organizing my studio. When I found myself clearing my collage table and then rearranging storage bins, I realized that I was ready to move beyond the research and concept development phase and start the messy process of making.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Quotes: Thompson Egbo-Egbo

"People get stuck on the idea of having resources, but it's more important to be resourceful. Just because you don't have resources – like instruments – doesn't mean nothing can be done." Thompson Egbo-Egbo, Nigerian-born, Toronto-raised musician 
Source: The Globe & Mail, Saturday November 23, 2013, p. M5.

*I love this quote. It's a reminder that our greatest resource is the grey matter right between our ears. 

Monday, 17 March 2014

Studio Series: Lent 2014 intuitive mark-making

Dip pen clouds © Karen Thiessen 2014
My Lenten intuitive mark-making practice began on Wednesday March 5. Unlike last year, when I chose to draw from life for a minimum of 15 minutes each day, I'm so engrossed in the mark-making that an hour or more will pass before I realize that I've gone past my 15 minute minimum. Last year I was tense and frustrated as I drew and constantly checked the clock. This struggle was good for me. This year I struggle to stop. A lot of the mark-making isn't exactly pretty, but I am learning so much. I figured out how to use a dip pen or nib pen for the first time and love the line quality. I've had a nib holder and an assortment of nibs in the studio for years but had never used them long enough to get the hang of the tool or technique. Ideas are flowing as I gain new skills.
Elastic ball print c © Karen Thiessen 2014
At some point in the life of this blog, I've written about my elastic ball that I've been adding used elastics to for several years. I have two on the go: one has over 7000 elastics and the other is made up of over 2000. This year I finally decided to print with them. The results are fun and I'm eager to push this further and see how I can combine the various techniques. This year I may have no difficulty continuing this practice beyond the 46 days of Lent.

This has been an exciting but strange time. I've met all of my major commitments and this is the first time in many years where I have no volunteer obligations or deadlines. Two new series are in the works and the energy is flowing. One series is still in the research phase and I'm already making the second series. Exhibition opportunities are coming my way and I've had to discern whether they are worthwhile or whether they are distractions. For two of them, I've decided that they are the latter: they would take time and energy away from the flow that I'm experiencing on an almost daily basis in the studio. My ego likes the thrill of a whack of deadlines, but the new work asks me to step back and give them breathing room. Do you have difficulty saying no to opportunities?

Friday, 14 March 2014

Amsterdam: Random Goodness

Café Thijssen; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2013
While in Amsterdam, I was delighted to see the alternate spelling of my surname. From what I understand, Thiessens started in Flanders in the early 1500s, were kicked out thanks to being radical Anabaptists (Mennonites) and then landed in Friesland and Holland for a few hundred years before making their way to Prussia, South Russia (present-day Ukraine) and finally to Canada and elsewhere. Café Thijssen is named after author and teacher Theo Thijssen. I confess that I had not heard of him until our Amsterdam trip. I love the font.
Milagros; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2013
The cool thing about the canal district in Amsterdam is that the side streets and alleys are as interesting as the main streets. I found this shop in an alley after a delicious Thai meal. You may think you have seen it all, and then you realize that there's more to discover. These milagros are quite large. 
Doggie in the Window; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2013
Looking at these pictures of summer light and open windows give me hope that spring will arrive for a long stay. I have my fingers crossed for a slow spring, where the temperature remains above freezing and warms gradually. One can only hope, right?

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Amsterdam: Street visuals

AMS Video Store window; Photo credit: © Karen Thiessen, 2013 
In three months it will have been a year since my Copenhagen and Amsterdam trip and I still have images to share from Amsterdam. This video store was on my favourite street in Amsterdam, Haarlemmerstraat. I really like how this video store sliced up movie posters for their window. With a window like this, who needs a sign?
AMS Towing zone sign; Photo credit: © Karen Thiessen, 2013 
Crisp red, white and yellow against black is pleasing, and the black text ties in with the black garage door.
AMS Poster; Photo credit: © Karen Thiessen, 2013 
I'm a sucker for pattern, so this poster was a treat.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Studio Series: undomestic hanger 1

undomestic: hanger 1; © Karen Thiessen, 2012
hanger 1 is a common wire hanger (the kind that you'd get from the drycleaner) that I wrapped with a lifetime of textile trimmings, commercial quilt binding, shoe laces, and yarn. Naturally, after I made this piece, I needed quilt binding for another project and I had to make it from scratch. 
undomestic: hanger 1 detail© Karen Thiessen, 2012
Don't you think that the hook part looks like a bird head? hanger 1 is solid and heavy.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Sandra Brownlee wins G.G. (Saidye Bronfman) award!

I have big news! Sandra Brownlee is the winner of the Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts. She joins such textile luminaries as Kai Chan, Dorothy Caldwell, and Susan Warner Keene in winning this prestigious award, formerly known as the Saidye Bronfman award. An exhibition featuring five of her major pieces opens at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, Ontario on March 27.
Those living in the Toronto area, will have an opportunity to take in a solo exhibition of her work at the David Kaye Gallery from May 1 to 25, 2014, and the opening is on Saturday May 3 from 2 to 4 pm. 

Sandra will also teach her Tactile Notebooks and the Written Word workshop at the Contemporary Textile Studio Co-operative from May 5 to 9, 2014. Space is limited to 12 participants. I took this workshop in 2011 and it transformed my studio practice. This is an opportunity not to be missed. For more information contact

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Lent 2014

Bus ride documentation, June 2011 © Karen Thiessen 2011
If you visit me here on a regular basis, you'll know that I'm a Lent nerd. I've been thinking about Lent 2014 since October 2013 when most people were dreaming of Christmas. In the past I've given up wine (too easy), chocolate (difficult), all sugar (challenging, but interesting). In 2011 I added a "doing" component to the "not doing" and I practiced yoga every day for 15 minutes. It became a habit and I didn't stop. Three years later, I've practiced yoga 1141 days in a row and since January 2013 I've increased my time to 30 minutes a day. Last year I drew from life for 15 minutes a day as my new "doing" component, in addition to giving up chocolate. Drawing from life every day was hard work and I was often frustrated, but this was good for me. This year I've committed to 15 minutes of daily intuitive mark-making as my 2014 Lenten practice, and yes I've given up chocolate again. I've pulled Martin Venezky's book It is Beautiful ... Then Gone and Corita Kent's Learning by Heart: Teachings to free the creative spirit off the shelf to inspire my drawing during the next 46 days.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Studio Series: undomestic strainer

undomestic: strainer; © Karen Thiessen, 2012
undomestic is a mini-series where I take household objects and render them unusable through a repetitive action. In this case, I sewed buttons onto a wire mesh strainer.
undomestic: strainer detail; © Karen Thiessen, 2012
My favourite parts of strainer are the handle and loopy "antennae" that I wrapped with embroidery floss. Wrapping the handle was immensely satisfying. Seeing it reminds me to do it again.
undomestic: strainer detail; © Karen Thiessen, 2012
Here's a detail of the loopy "antennae."