Sunday, November 30, 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, November 26, 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, November 24, 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, November 21, 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, November 19, 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, November 17, 2014

Quotes: Marcus Aurelius

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

Friday, November 14, 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, November 12, 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.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Quotes: Dani Shapiro

"I used to be angry with myself for my inability to live a normal life with normal rhythms, and also be a writer. But I've come to believe that normal is overrated––for artists, for everyone." –– Dani Shapiro, American author. From Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, page 207.
* Amen! I read Still Writing a few pages at a time over the course of two months. If you are a creative professional or know one and want to understand him/her, I highly recommend this book.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Dorothy Caldwell Silent Ice/Deep Patience @ AGP 8

Dorothy Caldwell A Red Hill/A Green Hill, 2012; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
The Silent Ice/Deep Patience exhibition was a mix of Dorothy's signature wax and silkscreen resist textiles and some very new work influenced by her time in Australia with India Flint. A Red Hill/A Green Hill is the largest (9'4" X 9'8") of her new work and aesthetically is a significant departure from the work for which she is best known. This textile is paler, muted, is coloured with ink wash and incorporates earth ochre like the "five sisters textiles" that I wrote about in my first posts about this exhibition. Naturally, I'd like to know what kind of ink Dorothy used.
Dorothy Caldwell A Red Hill/A Green Hill, 2012; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
The above appliqué is one half of a monogrammed woman's handkerchief edged with Italian hemstitch that Dorothy stitched and coloured with earth ochre and ink.
Dorothy Caldwell A Red Hill/A Green Hill, 2012; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
A detail of Dorothy's earth ochre encrusted stitching.
Dorothy Caldwell A Red Hill/A Green Hill, 2012; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Here's the other half of the handkerchief with a closer peek at rust-coloured earth ochre.
Dorothy Caldwell A Red Hill/A Green Hill, 2012; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
The subtlety of the new work is evident in the above and next details. In contrast, Dorothy's signature textiles are densely patterned with screen printed and stitched marks, often dramatic, with notes of bright appliquéd fabric. A Red Hill/A Green Hill is fluid, painterly, and ethereal. I'd like to spend more time with it, perhaps when it travels to Cambridge Galleries early next year.
Dorothy Caldwell A Red Hill/A Green Hill, 2012; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Only in the hands of a master does subtlety register as powerful.

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

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Dorothy Caldwell Silent Ice/Deep Patience @ AGP 7

Dorothy Caldwell Map without words, 2013; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
With dimensions a staggering 9'4" by 8'5", Map without words is monumental. For curators and some gallery goers, size matters, and this textile, as well as four others (that I will share in future posts) deliver. Dorothy lavishes each textile with such care and detail that it frustrates me that, unless the gallery provides a skyjack, I can't see it all up close and personal. A passage from Canadian mystery author Louise Penny's exquisite novel The Long Way Home helped me appreciate large scale a little more. Her principal character Armande Gamache is standing in the middle of a gallery filled with the paintings of Quebec artist Clarence Gagnon and is moved to tears: "Gamache turned. He was surrounded. Immersed. Not drowning, but buoyed. Baptized (Penny, 209)." Standing in the main space of the Art Gallery of Peterborough, I was immersed in the deeply sensitive work of Dorothy Caldwell. 
Dorothy Caldwell Map without words, 2013; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
I am grateful for the details in which I could revel. The above image of the midpoint of the textile, reveals that Map without words consists of four large quadrants of cotton imbued with wax and silkscreen resist, then finessed with sensitive stitching and appliqué.
Dorothy Caldwell Map without words, 2013; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Note the couched horizontal thread is a tonal gradation from white to black. Did Dorothy dye this herself? Probably.
Dorothy Caldwell Map without words, 2013; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
To capture this detail, I had to summon my yoga training and stretch high. Thank goodness I have some height in my favour. Dorothy's screen printed marks echo her stitching.
Dorothy Caldwell Silent Ice/Deep Patience, 2013; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
Silent Ice/Deep Patience is 23" square. The drawn silkscreened grid was also used on Wet Lake/Dry Lake and Wandering Time.
Dorothy Caldwell Silent Ice/Deep Patience, 2013; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2014
This cluster of appliqué from the lower left hand side of the textile is a modern equivalent to Boro.

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

Monday, November 3, 2014

Quotes: Donald Hall

"If work is no antidote to death, nor a denial of it, death is a powerful stimulus to work. Get done what you can." –– Donald Hall, American poet
*since the April car accidents, I am much more aware of my mortality and of how much work I have left to do. An awareness of death is the ultimate deadline.