The Alberta Legislative Assembly Office operates a beautiful retail store called Alberta Branded. Each year they have a juried showcase around a specific theme and I have the honour of being one of ten Albertan artists who will create new works for this year's exhibition. The theme is Façonner, which means to shape, fashion or mould. New works will be created all year long and I'm eager to continue to explore the theme, allowing it to unfold and adapt over these next months. I'm also quite intrigued to see the works of the other artists and how they have approached the theme from their own medium and point of view!
Façonner: We shape to adapt a form, thereby directing a course. We fashion to reflect personal style and the current nature of the world. We mould to influence, creating a matrix. - Alberta Branded
The artwork I have created (and will continue to create this year) for Façonner is rooted in natural elements. Each piece is formed in response to the unfolding story I see revealed to us through Creation. Extracting basic lines and shapes from the intricate natural world, I explore an elemental approach to my experiences. Observing light, colours, shapes and lines, the subjects are deconstructed then fashioned into layered mixed media artworks. Natural materials (like birch bark and wildflowers collected to dye fabric and paper) are incorporated into each piece along with conventional materials (like acrylic, watercolour, paper and clay). The process of gathering and preparing materials allows me to infuse more of what I encounter into each work.
My story reflects the observations and reflections within the beauty of the Province of Alberta, including our five National Parks and my home in the Northern boreal forest. As I continue to witness the unfolding story around me, I am left with a peaceful clarity that has shaped my life. Reflecting these experiences and this clarity are integral parts of these works.
Back in May I became enamoured with this photo that popped up in my twitter feed, created by Paul Zizka. (View the full image here!) The colours, the lines, the composition... they spoke to me in a special way. I see a lot of amazing photographs in my social media feeds but they don't often stop me in my tracks like this one did. And what made it extra special is that I immediately saw this image in other visual expressions. My brain automatically transferred the photographic image into acrylic paint and watercolour and paper versions. I contacted Paul to inquire if he licenses his photographs to artists for reference usage and I was in luck - he does just that. So, you can imagine how excited I was that he was willing to license his image to me to explore in different mediums! (Thanks, Paul!) I decided to give myself a goal of 5 pieces for this image study. The first step was a digital drawing, extracting the lines and forms that I felt were necessary to tell the story of this image. I worked and reworked it to find a balance between detail and minimalism - and I chose to keep the image as a square, since that is how I first viewed it.
The next step was to explore these same lines and shapes using acrylic on wood panel. After producing such clean and crisp lines in the digital painting, the acrylic version felt much looser, the texture of brush strokes creating a different feel for this second piece.
The third piece required a loom and yarn. I discovered that weaving is extremely addicting - I ended up binging in two sessions and 14 hours later the weaving was complete! In this version I chose to make the iceberg larger so it wouldn't get lost in the other yarn textures, as well as eliminating some sections to give the weaving more lines that extended from edge to edge.
Then I got lost in a sea of paper, using layers that were painted with watercolour techniques and cutting others from solid cardstock. Each piece was cut and placed in various heights, venturing away from the simplified design I started with and adding more lines and colours for increased movement.
And the fifth study was a return to the original lines, with the iceberg enlarged and sculpted out of clay. The mountains were also sculpted with the remaining sections left two-dimensional. This series proved to be a wonderful study that, as an unexpected side bonus, gave me increased clarity on a number of elements within my art practice. No matter the medium there's always a need to let go, trust the process and get to work!
Beyond these shores
Into the darkness
Beyond these shores
This boat may sail
And if this is the way
Then there will be
A path across this sea
And if I sail beyond
The farthest ocean
Or lose myself in depths below
Wherever I may go
Your love surrounds me
For you have been before
Beyond these shores
I have been relishing very productive studio time these days. And it feels good. It doesn't feel good because it's all easy and laid-back. (I wonder if some people think artists recline, adorned with a beret and a glass of red wine in hand, painting with ease and leisure. Sounds nice though!) It feels good because I am pushing through fear, frustration and self-doubt - and producing work that I am excited about.
Last week an idea morphed from it's original state (which is not out of the ordinary for my artistic process) and after a few sketches I began to paint... I felt so restless and unsatisfied with what was unfolding in front of me. Ugh. Had I ruined hours of work with this morphing of ideas? I set it aside and started with fresh eyes a few days later. I knew something was missing... but what? How would I say what I needed to with this piece?
I think fearlessness looks more like determination in the face of that internal struggle rather than the total absence of fear.
Acknowledging fear but moving through it is a common theme in my life - and definitely in my art work. Sure, it would be great to be fearless from the get-go but I think fearlessness looks more like determination in the face of that internal struggle rather than the total absence of fear. So, I pushed aside those thoughts that like to remind me that I'll never get it right, and chose instead to take some risks. I dyed cheesecloth in watercolour, sprayed rubbing alcohol, painted with a sea sponge and brought out a bottle of Mod Podge. I chose to give my ideas a shot. What's the worst thing that could happen? (And truly... what is the worst thing that happens?... I hate it? Well, then tear it up or burn it - if you need that kind of cathartic thing as I do - and try again!) I have been learning that the "practice", the "failure", the "trying something new", all are stepping stones of growth. We are way too concerned with perfection - I know I certainly am.
All this is good for my heart - my mind - my soul. The end product of this piece...? I love it. It's already framed and tucked away for February. Today I begin with a new idea, a freshly gessoed wood panel and a plan of attack. Sure, there's fear but I am choosing to be determined and look forward to the adventure of a new project in order to press on. Even with a deadline I must choose exploration over the pursuit of perfection - it makes me a better artist and takes the expectation and judgement off of those blank canvases.
The first set of my plein-air watercolour series is now up for sale! This set of 10 was inspired by and painted in spectacular Waterton Lakes National Park (WLNP). Waterton is a special place to my husband and I, with quite a catalog of memories built over the years. This summer we will have spent 4 weeks in Waterton and as much as I love our Northern home, there's a familiarity and comfort in the Park that make this a beloved place to be refreshed. As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been working on a Plein-Air: Mini Series of watercolour paintings, many of which have been painted in WLNP. And now, this series is available right in the Park!
Pictured above are three of the ten original watercolours that are available in "Junction". Each is matted and framed, with bumpers on the back to protect the wall. The largest ones are 6 x 8 framed, and the smaller ones are 5 x 7 framed. They can be displayed tabletop or look fantastic hung in a cluster.
My favourite little store in the Waterton townsite is "Junction". The owner, Julia, has selected such beautiful, unique, hand-made items for her store - everything from jewelry to soaps to clothing to artwork (and goodness, SO much more). I am absolutely thrilled to have a place for this Waterton themed set of watercolours right in her beautiful store. Next time you're in Waterton be sure to check out Junction (connected to Pearl's Cafe) and pick up one of my paintings and more of the hand-made treasures you'll find inside.
Foxy Loxy is all dressed up!
This project has been an invaluable learning experience. The biggest surprise was the hours it would take to complete it. Over 3 1/2 months I have put in approximately 100 hours. And now, looking back, I can see why. He became like a complicated puzzle, colours weaving in and out - and each piece painted with no larger than a size 8 flat brush (and most of the time my tools of choice were #2 and #4 flat brushes). I found myself wondering if there was a faster, more efficient, way of approaching this project but the only thing I would have done differently is to apply a good 2-3 coats of white as a base layer in the beginning. (Which would not have necessarily saved me time in the end, it would have just given me a smooth surface to paint on in the beginning, and perhaps saved me a coat of colour as the grey base sucked up that first coat.) Perhaps next time my design would be inspired by an arctic fox in a blizzard. (Just kidding...maybe.)
Last weekend I put in some marathon sessions in order to get it completed (much to the chagrin of my body). It was quite a challenge to precisely remix colours for touch-ups but patience has been the theme throughout my time with Foxy Loxy. And putting this many hours in means that I have challenged, and hopefully improved, my skill set along the way.
As I have mentioned in practically every other post about this project, it was a challenge taking a 2D design and adapting it for 3D. Every artist in the project that I have spoken to has felt the same way. It seems obvious now but the unique shape of the sculpture had us strategizing how to navigate our original designs. Using a ruler was no longer an option and even painters tape had to be manipulated in order to make me the lines I desired. Plus, I had the sides, underbelly and back to consider as well. I had originally planned to have the lines exactly mirrored throughout but it was apparent upon first fox sighting that my plan would have to be drastically revised. It was a tremendous challenge painting in all the nooks and crannies, making sure that the lines of my design were clean and had continuity. This fox spent a lot of time balanced upside down and in all sorts of precarious positions (as did I!!) It has been quite the experience in making him come to life!
I opted to work in the hallway outside the Syne Room as much as I could (better air flow, it was quieter, and I had a more preferable mix of lighting). It was always nice to have inquiries and encouragement from those passing by me while I was painting. And in the final days I had many inquire as to the meaning behind his design - questions that I had not received until this point. I absolutely loved being able to tell Foxy Loxy's story to all those who asked. I have kept much under wraps to give myself freedom to adapt and change as necessary so it has been exciting to reveal it all now! I am so pleased with the finished work and can hardly wait until his installation, along with his other fox buddies, along the trail system. What a cool project to be part of - I am so blessed!
"Inspired by our Northern Alberta landscape, I created my design concept to feature the beauty of our region and the familiar, natural setting by which we are surrounded. In light of our diversity as citizens of Fort McMurray, our experiences with the natural surroundings are something that unifies us. There is nothing quite like watching the Northern sky change brilliant shades of purple, red and pink as the sun sets - or being blanketed in the warming rays of sunshine on a long, summer day.
This design focuses on the plentiful wetlands in our region, with the bottom half of the fox containing the cattails and grasses of these marshes, and the top portion abstractly depicting the reflected rays of sunlight.
As our region is nestled in the diverse boreal forest, I wanted my design to be anchored by that landscape, drawing the greens of the painted sculpture into the ground of the natural settings along the trail in which they would be installed. The colour choices are intended to highlight the vibrancy of what we see with our eye by making them familiar but intensifying the shades used in order to evoke more of the emotional experience we may have in these surroundings.
As the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, we are diverse in people as well as our natural surroundings. The design weaves colours and lines in and out, to create one cohesive design. Each colour, each ray of light, each blade of grass, and each cattail was painted as an individual entity but it relies on the shapes and colours around it to bring this cohesiveness and unity."
I want to say a big thank you to each and every person who spoke words of encouragement along the way. I am so appreciative for each inquiring mind and each thoughtful word. (It can be difficult to separate yourself from your work and encouragers can certainly get you back on track and give you a good dose of reality.) There are many I could thank by name, but I fear leaving someone out! Thank you to the Regional Recreation Corporation of Wood Buffalo for the wonderful opportunity and for supporting the arts in Fort McMurray. Thank you for providing us with a place at MacDonald Island to work away! It is such a joy to be part of this community, especially as we see the arts come alive here. The investment is necessary and adds so much value to our community. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
I had the great privilege of being asked to collaborate on the latest issue of "NorthWord: A Literary Journal of Canada's North" as the cover artist, with guest editor Russell Thomas. The theme was surprise! As I first considered the theme and how I would visually portray this with paint, I thought about all the elements of surprise. Surprises can be wonderful or horrific - you usually love them or hate them.
Personally, I am not the biggest fan of surprises. Although, one of the best birthday's was when I turned 19 and I had three surprise parties thrown for me amongst various groups of my University friends. Those were good surprises, making me feel loved, special and valued. But, with more frequency, we experience surprises that are not nearly so pleasant - things that bring stress and panic and new deadlines. Ultimately, it all boils down to the unexpected. Most of us fear the unexpected. We don't like change. We like our lives rather predictable. We thrive in routine but things can get stagnant in a hurry.
I approached the painting with a sense of expectancy rather than fear. I began with the image of the jack-in-the-box because we often approach surprise the way we do this downright creepy toy. We start churning that handle, bracing ourselves for the inevitable surprise. We know it's coming - at some point - but we cringe, not knowing exactly when it will come or what sort of freaky looking thing will pop out and nearly give us a heart attack! I decided to let go of the fear that comes with all that anticipation and imagined what that would look like instead... what if the surprise surprised us? What if I not only expected the surprises but I had hope and faith that they would be something wonderful (even if not at first sight)? What if all the unexpected things in our lives could be beautiful - leading us to growth and change and freedom from fear? Would I dare to invite surprise in my life?
These thoughts resulted in the cover artwork as well as a poem that I was delighted to discover had also been selected for publishing in the issue. I just picked up my copy today and am looking forward to reading it cover to cover. I know I will be surprised with all the different writings and angles used when approaching this theme!
Pick up a free copy of NorthWord around town (I picked up mine as I headed out the front doors at MacDonald Island) and join us for our "Surprise Party" on February 26th!
Patience. This project has been a test in patience. There is simply no rushing the process. I find my mind wandered as I painted this week, thinking about all the ways that I could have improved the process in order to be further along. Aside from one thing I'd do differently, there is no fast-track for this design. Oh, there's lessons to learn in every nook and cranny of our lives!
There was a tremendous sense of relief yesterday as I finished the base coat for the bottom half design. No more grey - no more empty spaces. (I may have even broke out into the "Hallelujah Chorus".) This week, due to a particularly noisy fan in the Snye room, I moved into the hallway. It was nice to have an occasional passerby to connect with and I certainly appreciated the encouraging, inquisitive remarks. Earlier in the week I had a parade of tutu-ed mini ballerinas peeking into the room to see what I was up to. I was thankful for the adorable visitors.
The whole project is really quite remarkable and we are all so eager to see the installation in place. Our curious minds will have to wait to see how it all comes together in the great outdoors! Next week: a palette of green!
I think I've lost count. Foxy Loxy and I have spent many hours together now. Today I finished painting the outline of the bottom half, nearly standing on my head (and putting Foxy on his) in order to get every nook and cranny accounted for. As I mentioned in the beginning, one of the biggest challenges has been taking a 2D design and transferring that to a 3-dimensional object. But challenged accepted and challenge complete! Now that the last section has been painted on, it's time for a white base-coat layer to clearly mark out the criss-crossing cattails. He's coming together!
The process for the bottom half is completely different than the line taping madness of the top. Using an acrylic paint marker, I am drawing the details free-hand. The hard lines of the top are contrasted with the curves I'm creating now - but they are both endlessly weaving in and out.
There is a bit of fearlessness that I've had to tap into for this project, as my two dimensional design has been adapted to the nooks and crannies of my 3D reality. From the very beginning I realized that I wouldn't be able to sketch the entire design onto the fox. Rather, I'd have to trust the process and trust myself to make the creative decisions along the way. It was quite daunting to begin drawing over all the stage one painting - what if I slipped? What if I made a poor choice of lines? I had to choose to be fearless and go for it. My favourite experiences and works as an artist come from that choice. It's always good to let go.
I took a break from Foxy Loxy over the holidays. Today, I finally finished stage one. I just might be able to put away the tape! With two more stages to go (the bottom half and then touch-ups) I am excited to begin drawing out the bottom details next week and start with a new array of colours. A palette cleanse is in order! The next challenge will be navigating through the smaller surface area of his legs, tail and belly. I'm going to have to figure out a way to secure him upside down in order to paint with precision... I will MacGyver something - stay tuned!