Monday, September 25, 2017

Back at Home in the Studio

Summer and holidays and family gatherings are indeed wonderful, but I must confess that I was glad to be able to return to the studio this past week. My found objects and African fabrics were already out on the tables, so it was relatively easy to get back into gear and work on my latest African Collage piece. This one is called Murrum Roads, and references the red soil that is so prevalent in so many African countries. This rapidly becomes red dust, with which one is heavily coated at the end of any long journey. Driving around potholes, swinging from one side of the road to the other, passing people of all sorts as well as school children in their uniforms and goats and cattle and boda-bodas (motorcycles), hanging onto those grab bars for all you're worth - it makes for many memorable journeys, and it was these I was thinking of as I worked.
Another undertaking was completing the journal quilt I will be taking to this year's Fibre Art Network retreat, to be held near Kamloops. We will each arrive with one of these, and present them by way of introduction on the first evening. The theme this year is Into the Wilderness, and my piece. worked around a cyanotype print of a New Zealand fern in boro-like patchwork and stitching, is called Hiking in Abel Tasman. This is a magnificent park on the south island of New Zealand, and the place we holidayed with our daughter, son-in-law and grandson in February of this year. Oh so beautiful, and while perhaps not wilderness in the Canadian sense of the word, it was still wild and almost uninhabited, with tracks climbing up and down along the coastline.
This last weekend saw us over at our cabin on Hornby Island, where the loft becomes my studio, and where I dug out my scrap bag. (I had forgotten my current hand-stitching project at home.) I began by cutting strips of these fabrics no particular width, and sewing some of them together into strip units. So satisfying.
I then cut these into uniform widths and sewed them around 4 1/2" squares. A little too predictable, I thought. Could be quite boring, my Sweetie added. Back to the loft and I made another attempt.

This time I varied the width of the strips from one end to the other, and added strip unit sections as part of one or more borders. Much better, my Sweetie said. Much more interesting. And so I made a few more, and a few more, and a new quilt is underway. I DO love to sew bright colours together, and it may not be quite what I had intended to work on this week, but it made me happy, and that has got to be a good thing.

Monday, September 18, 2017

A Workshop Experience on Whidbey Island

I have been an admirer of Carol Nelson's work with acrylics for some time, so when I found out she was teaching a workshop at the Pacific Northwest School of Art on Whidbey Island, I signed up right away. It was time to learn something new, I thought. My friend Dale MacEwan was keen to take the class too, so we drove down to Coupeville on Wednesday, and then proceeded to immerse ourselves in an alternate universe (acrylic paints instead of textiles), for the next two days. 
I had been drawn to the rich and intense colours of Carol's painting, especially in her depiction of trees, and to her description of the class, which gave me the sense that it would be relaxed and freeing. Which it was. Except that I was working in a medium totally new to me. The colours mixed together quite unpredictably, and there was an art to getting just the right amount of paint on a brush but not too much, and using just the right amount of water. The paints were transparent, but I learned that adding white made them opaque. Even the wrist movement in making brush strokes was new to me. I was most definitely out of my comfort zone. A humbling experience, to say the least.
Dale's piece seemed to come together quite well, and I drew strength from watching her patient working of the surface. "This is a practice piece", she reminded me. I knew that on some level, but had still expected that I would take to this new way of working with  more ease. I finished my piece, except for a little bushy bit of foliage that I forgot to glue in place. But I was less than delighted with my outcome.
I admired other student work around the room, and experienced a longing to start all over again. Only I didn't really want to do that. What I really wanted to do was to get back home to my fabric, where a colour is what it is unless you put it up against another bit of fabric that changes it a bit. Where there are no sticky fingers. And yes, where I feel more comfortable.
Am I glad I took part in this class? Yes. It's only by trying new things from time to time that I learn where I truly belong and have firmed up deep inside me what I want to do and how I want to spend my time. And it's good to recognize that skill in any medium doesn't come easily, that it doesn't arrive in a neatly wrapped bundle that you simply unwrap and then produce work just like the people whose work you admire. It all takes time, and practice, and commitment, and the making of many, many not-so-great pieces, before some level of success is achieved. So what did I do when I got home? I finished my latest African collage piece, and I dreamed about creating more trees from my fabrics.

Monday, September 11, 2017

How I Spent my Summer Holidays - Part 2

This need to sum up what happened over the summer must date back to those after-the-holidays essays we were required to write every September in elementary school. Or maybe it's that the summer goes by so quickly that I want to capture the memories of those blissfully sunny days before they disappear entirely. Yesterday morning I had to put on my fleece-lined slippers in the coolness of the day, and sitting in my comfy chair, I could hear a flock of Canada geese trying out flying in formation overhead.  Certain signs of the change in season. But the summer was a good one - the last week especially, spent at our family cabin on Hornby Island. Two of our four children pictured here,
and two of our three grandchildren.
We had hikes through Helliwell (Nora and Molly are climbing on one of Helliwell's big maple trees in this pic), and BBQ's, and many beach days with lots of water activities, and all the good things that go into a summer holiday.
The Hornby Quilt Show is always a highlight, and once again I was invited too set up a table there and o sell items made by the Bitengye Designers, with all proceeds going to the Widows' Gardens Project that David is involved with in Southern Uganda.
This quilt, with the inner blocks embroidered by two of the women, and borders added by a third was for sale, but hasn't found a home yet. Soon I hope.
And I was able to attend a number of exhibits in other mediums during the summer months. This tapestry comes from one on at present at The Old Schoolhouse Gallery in Qualicum Beach. Unfortunately I didn't record the name of the artist, but it was magnificent.
Grant Leier and his wife Nixie Barton also had an exhibit there. The colour and layering and joy of Grant's work is particularly appealing to me, but I also love Nixie's treatment of fields in her landscapes below. Sometimes I forget how important it is (as well as a great pleasure) to take oneself on an "artist's date", as Julia Cameron calls it. Once a week is what she recommends, and I'm going to try to heed those words of wisdom in the coming months.
But for now I am returning to my own work. A fourth "African Collage", as I've come to call them, is almost finished, and now I'm off to a Mixed Media workshop with Carol Nelson at the Pacific Northwest Art School on Whidbey Island for the rest of the week. Life is good.

Monday, August 21, 2017

A Fine Line - at the Ladysmith Waterfront Gallery

This week saw the opening of the Fibre Art Voices (FAV) exhibit at Ladysmith Waterfront Gallery. I have been a member of this small local group of fibre artists for some years, and we've had small exhibits in the past, but this was our first big show. The main focus of the exhibit were the pieces we made for A Fine Line - each of us making one larger piece and two smaller complementary pieces, in which we interpreted the theme in our own individual ways. Here are some of them:
 Karrie Phelps
 June Boyle
 Gayle Lobban
 Gail Tellett
 Hennie Aikman, Margaret Kelly, Pippa Moore
And a closer view of mine. I realize now that I am missing a closer photo of Margaret and Hennie's work, and the images I have of Gladys's pieces don't do them justice, but his gives you a sense of the flow around the walls. While the themes varied, the line was continuous - a concept borrowed from a SAQA exhibit whose catalogue had fallen into our hands.
A Fine Line filled two walls of this large and light-filled gallery, while the two remaining walls held work that responded to the theme, Indigo. A few pics of these:
 Hennie Aikman, Margaret Kelly, Karrie Phelps, June Boyle, Pippa Moore
 Gail Tellett, June Boyle
 Gayle Lobban, June Boyle
Pippa Moore
It was terrific to meet those of you who were able to come to our opening reception yesterday afternoon, but not too late for more of you to visit us in person during this coming week. It's been a terrific experience to mount this exhibition, as well as to share it with the public. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

How I Spent My Summer Holidays - Part I

This week, I came home from two weeks of camping and travelling. First I joined a friend in driving the loop from Duncan to Cowichan River and then over what used to be logging roads to Port Renfrew, then south almost as far as Victoria before turning north and homeward again. The weather was glorious, and we camped first by the ocean and then in the rainforest of the west coast of the island.
Look at all the shapes of those leaves. So many in such a small area - all turning their faces up to catch what sunlight they can. Specimens were gathered and pressed and will find their way into my work at some later date.
The fireweed at the side of the road reminded me of my growing up years in Ontario, and that it's now August.
The beach at Port Renfrew, just in front of our camping spot. And no, we weren't tempted to swim. Way too cold!
We hiked up into an old growth forest - Avatar Grove - where many of these giants live. Amazing!
And noticed how small the ferns were on the forest floor, and spread out to catch the light. So different than in newer forests.
Until we came upon this tree, reputed to be the gnarliest tree in Canada, and is found at the end of the trail. Well worth the climb. It was so good to get outside in enjoy these warm summer days, to live simply and to take time to notice the world around us. Good too to be away from the internet, in fact we didn't even have phone reception. I couldn't have been happier. And while I didn't get any work done, I did have some hand-stitching with me, and more importantly, I'm learning not to feel guilty about what I'm not getting done when I have these opportunities. The work was here waiting for me when I got home, and I feel immeasurably energized by all I experienced. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Choices, or You Can't Do It All

This week I've been thinking about choices, about how there isn't just one right direction to go in, much as there's not one right partner for you or one right friend for you. It's more about reaching a crossroads - in relationships, in careers, in adventures, in artistic direction - and having to make a choice. I can go this way or that way. The only thing that's certain, is that I can't stay exactly where I am. Or if I do, I'm going to have the most boring, but safe life ever. I think that's why I like this small work above - The Red Door - there are nine possible doors, and which door am I going to choose. I really have no idea where any of these doors are going to take me, but must still make a choice. And then I must walk through the door (this is where courage is needed!) and see what happens.
I have often included both doors and windows in my quilts - they are such a wonderful metaphor for the path to discovery and adventure. Which door indeed?
Back in my twenties, I spent the better part of a year back-packing around Europe. I didn't have a list of places I must go, destinations that I needed to check off on a list, although I had some notion of what might appeal to me. I headed off from New York city on a Greek freighter, only because I wanted to experience first-hand how big the ocean is. And the only reservation I made for myself in that year was the very first one, in Athens. After that, I chose where I went depending on who I met, and what they told me, and what I discovered on my own. It was a wonderful, wonderful time. Sometimes I stayed in the same place for 2-3 weeks at a time.
Yes, this is me, on the ferry to Mykonos. Where I soon met a fellow Canadian and a Kiwi, who became my travelling companions for a month or so. Where I learned about ancient history for the first time - touching stones that had been carried into place three thousand years before. Where I felt what it's like to run across a bed of sea urchins with bare feet, and then have the caretaker at the youth hostel painstakingly remove them one by one. Where I first tasted baklava. None of these things would have happened if I hadn't chosen the Greek freighter door. I couldn't possibly have guessed at all that would follow that, but that choice, the first of many, led to so many amazing experiences. And so it is, perhaps, with the creative life. We need to make choices about which direction we'll go in. We need to take that risk. And then we can open up to see what happens. How marvelous!

Monday, July 17, 2017

My Studio in the Woods

 I am only just home from a week of camping. 
Beautiful sunshine, and life pared down to its essentials -
a comfy bed, good food, and good company.
 Looking through the trees to the lake,
watching the squirrels and listening to the birdsong.
 And looking way, way up to the trees whispering overhead.
 Collecting new leaves to press, and later to print,
 Noticing the dappled light on alders along the shore,
Marvelling at the unique shape, not only of each leaf, but also of each branch.  
 Taking a little time to hand-stitch an indigo piece in progress,
And to jot down some of my ideas for possible future work, as well as getting back to my early morning journalling practice.
Sometimes I forget how important it is to get outdoors and live amongst the trees for a time.
So sweet. Such a gift. So thankful.