I have the great privilege of having been chosen, along with 5 other Fort McMurray artists, to represent our region in the Art Gallery of Alberta's Travelling Exhibition program. Our exhibition has been called Beyond 'the Patch': Stories From Wood Buffalo. The submission process took place before the wildfire of May 2016 and we were notified of our successful applications during the evacuation. I was already excited to be able to share the natural beauty of the Wood Buffalo I know and love but the works we would create had even more significance in our post-fire reality.
What an honour to showcase the beauty and heart of our region with this exhibition. Our artwork is travelling around the province for the next year, acting as ambassadors to tell a more accurate and balanced story of Wood Buffalo. My home is special and unique - and we do a lot of things differently. Our oil industry is the oil sands (not 'the patch') and that land is reclaimed over time. We are resilient, generous and community minded. Our multi-cultural diversity is celebrated, with people who are born and raised here and others who have travelled from all around the province, country, and world to be here. This is a place of great opportunity with the ability to take risks and experience growth. And our beauty- that’s undeniable - we can take a walk through Birchwood Trails, a drive up the winter road to Fort Chipewyan, go kayaking on Gregoire Lake, or spend a night star gazing with the aurora dancing overhead. It's amazing. The whole, balanced story of beauty and stillness, hope and opportunity, vibrancy and diversity - has, by and large, been neglected by the media. But, our collective works will give you another look because our Wood Buffalo exudes all of these characteristics and more. And hopefully, as these paintings, drawings and photographs travel, others will learn how special we are too. Wood Buffalo most certainly has life and soul in and ‘beyond the patch’.
The following photographs were my contribution to the exhibition. In the months after we returned home after the wildfire evacuation, the boreal forest was undergoing a remarkable and stunning recovery. It served to many of us a symbol of resilience and rebirth.
Resilience: Morning on the Athabasca Watching the mist lifting off the Athabasca River on this cool autumn morning was a soul-stirring experience. I desired to capture the light and hope of this moment, with the gull soaring high over a changed landscape.
Resilience: Juvenile Bald Eagle In the fall of 2016 this lovely Juvenile Bald Eagle made his presence known in a section of completely burnt out forest. It was an area my husband and I had explored plenty of times and when the forest was thick with conifers we wondered how much wildlife was watching us while we were completely unaware! With the branches bare we were grateful for the opportunity to enjoy this young eagle's company and overjoyed to see signs of wildlife returning.
Resilience: Pine Grosbeak This image, of a puffed up Pine Grosbeak and a perfect heart shaped leaf was made on a very cold December day. So cold, in fact, that we had an extreme cold weather warning. The beauty in every season must be found if one is to thrive in a Northern winter.
Resilience: Fireweed Living up to its namesake, the Fireweed was more plentiful and vibrant the summer after the wildfire than I had ever seen. Even though the forest floor was completely charred and black, within days of the fire, new shoots were springing through the ash and soot. We had never seen such vibrant greens. By the end of the summer entire fields of Fireweed, up to 5 feet tall, were emerging all around us.
This summer, an open call for igNIGHT was posted by the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. igNIGHT is a 10 day temporary public art exhibition of illuminated artworks with this year's theme of Canada 150. I love art installations and find myself dreaming up all sorts of wild ideas - but with no place to install them (or a lack of a budget to make it happen in the first place.) So, I was excited to see a local opportunity and began to dream and ask questions and research and budget. My friend and colleague, Liana Wheeldon came alongside me in the journey and we were thrilled to bring this idea to life.
Wanting an accessible and playful way to approach the Canada 150 theme, we created a 5' x 8' beaver lodge, complete with illuminated beaver lanterns. The entire structure was surrounded by 8 interpretive panels with all sorts of fun and crazy beaver facts and lovely sketches created by Liana. We amalgamated our skill sets and got to work! Home, Sweet Home (or my nickname for it: Beaverville) was the culmination of construction, sculpture and assemblage I love the finishing touches of the wicker patio lights - those beavers are good decorators!
I took on the construction elements, using 2x2's to organically create the beaver lodge frame. I loved the minimalism of the frame just as it was and will have to revisit this process for another project. The lodge is constructed in 3 sections so that we could transport it separately and have access inside for the lighting elements. Thankfully, we had the gracious support of friends who offered up their garage and driveway so we could continue the process in a sheltered location. We gathered fallen branches from the surrounding forest and selected the best ones to cover the frame - systematically pre-drilling and attaching them, creating a bit of a puzzle as it all came together. The inside was covered with outdoor fabric to ensure that we had the light diffused enough to allow the lodge to glow at night.
Each of us created our own beaver lanterns, starting with moulds we made of plastic, cardboard, tape and newspaper. The moulds were then covered with vellum and rice paper using a papier mache technique. I lovingly named mine Buckeye and Bernadette (and Beavis for the tail sticking out of the water). ;) Lights were installed inside each beaver and they were attached to both the lodge and the frame. A lighting dress rehearsal took place late one night to ensure that everything had power and all the cords had their place in the crazy maze underneath. Planning, executing, tweaking, planning some more, tweaking some more... all a part of the day to day work to make all the details work together. Countless hours were spent at each stage and I can certainly attest to having learned a great deal through it all.
Creating a design and proposal on paper naturally leads to some oversights in details and the troubleshooting became an integral part of the artistic process. Taking the bones of the proposal and bringing it to 3-dimensional life meant that we were constantly experimenting and refining elements of the design, making the project stronger as we progressed. There were many challenges (including having to install in the pouring rain and frigid temperatures) and the timeframe was intense but we completed our project! We were over the moon to share our blood, sweat and tears with the community and even more thrilled to watch how people interacted with our beaver friends.
One of my favourite elements was the use of nature sounds so, in the dark, you were transported from the middle of the city to the peaceful beaver world filled with creaking toads and quacking ducks and even the sound of the beavers splashing in the water. The temporal nature of our project also pointed to the ever-changing natural environment around us and the importance of the process.
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'm not sure if you've noticed my social media bio but it says this:
Artist | called to create, in any form necessary | wrestling fear, chasing beauty, pursuing peace | learning to rest at Jesus' feet
That last part - learning to rest at Jesus' feet - goes back to the account of Mary and Martha. It's a story I revisit often and one that I continue to receive the gift of fresh revelation as the years unfold. Two years ago I wrote about it here. And as we enter the season of Lent, I have been brought back to lovely Martha with fresh eyes (for I do think she is lovely, although misunderstood and quickly judged). I see afresh that the retreat happens in the midst of the to-do list. In the middle of preparing for the guests, in the middle of busy lives, in the middle of the mess, in the middle of our weaknesses... that is where the resting at Jesus' feet happens. I often considered it an all or nothing type scenario that had me wondering, "Who cleans the toilets if everyone's with Jesus?!" As much as I know it is so good to hang out in the garden, retreating with Jesus, I am convinced there's a way to also sit as His feet, receiving His peace, while I'm scrubbing away. Now I'm trying to navigate exactly what that looks like.
Tomorrow is the beginning of Lent: the 40 days before Easter (not including the Sundays). This season serves as a time of preparation and a reflection on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. What a perfect time to retreat. I am choosing to carve out more quiet space in my day and spend more reflective time in the studio. All of which will require a very intentional look at my schedule and a very mindful shift in perspective. I still have obligations and responsibilities and deadlines and demands and requests, but I'm determined to retreat in the middle of it all. The key to this, for me, is taking this time to create quietly. I've decided I'm not going to share what I'm creating... at least not during this lenten season. And perhaps, it will continue to be an entirely personal project - we shall see! I'm going to let it all unfold each day and savour those moments, unconcerned with perfection or a business plan. I'm not checking out, I'm just taking another step back in retreat. I'll still be checking messages and working, meeting those deadlines and interacting with fine folks - I'm just shifting gears for 40 days and hoping to learn a little more about resting at Jesus' feet.
Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.”
"The birds they sang
at the break of day
I heard them say
Don't dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
You can add up the parts
but you won't have the sum
You can strike up the march,
there is no drum
Every heart, every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee."
Leonard Cohen "Anthem" (excerpts)
I've spent the last months working on a special commission for the Scarlett family. Constance and I met for lunch one day last summer as we savoured being back in the city and oozed with gratitude for a million little things. Between bites of sandwich we talked about loss, heartache, hope, faith and healing. Her family had lost their home to the Horse River wildfire and I was being invited to create an artwork for them, using the precious few items that had been recovered. We were united in the desire to find beauty among the ashes.
I wanted to know what had been on her and her husband's heart and mind throughout the evacuation - if there were any quotes or recurring thoughts that resonated with them in everything they had been through. That's where "Anthem" by Leonard Cohen came in. And then, as she shared with me the broken and charred pieces, each having it's own story to tell, I found my imagination running wild with how they could tell a new story that rang louder of renewal than tragedy.
The first piece I began to work on was the nest. Each length of uncoated wire creating a growing foundation, representing the fragility and temporary nature of "home". Knitted into the wires was one half of a silver compact mirror given to Constance by her brothers, her Mom's baby spoon that had been given to her daughter, her baby bracelet, a coin, a ring, two more bracelets and the spring from her husband's firearm. I thought of how birds carefully select each piece, finding the best place to intertwine what they bring home to create a place of shelter and safety. The birds, sculpted and finished in layers of black leaf became symbols of faith, hope and the courage to leave the nest to start anew. The birds represent their family unit, all having been refined through their experiences.
The next piece to be completed was the lantern. A pre-existing frame was deconstructed, stripped and re-fabricated with many custom adaptations made. Layers of plaster and paint were built up to ensure that this lantern had been through the journey too. The desire to create a lamp/lantern was the first image that came to mind in this project, representing the light required to lead them out of the darkness. It was a symbol of hope and faith, of God's faithfulness, knowing that their experiences and circumstances all work together to tell a bigger story. It was the longing for direction in how to move forward in healing. The lantern also sparked the name for the piece:
Lead Us Home.
Four mosaic sections were assembled, with the first positioned on the inside ceiling of the lantern. This section was created with her daughter's baby Bunnykins bowl as well as the other half of the silver compact mirror. I thought of the resiliency of her young daughter and the joy that she brings to their family - I thought of how hope rises and leads to healing. The other three mosaics, placed along the outer sides, were assembled from two beautiful dishes: a Greek coffee cup given to Constance by her Yiayia (Grandmother) and a tea cup saucer from her Baba (her Ukrainian Grandmother).
The ornamental top of the lantern was part of a teapot, one that had been given to Constance by her Yiayia as a Grad school graduation gift. The handle is a bracelet and tucked inside is a tiny teacup bottom and a ring, both gifts from her Baba. A plaque from her daughter's baby spoon, as well as a number of coins adorned the next section. A beautiful lock from her husband's firearm became a feature on the front and inspired the colour of the lantern. Once the nest and birds were laid inside, the final element was a key from her Yiayia's house in New York.
The individual pieces each came with its own memory of who it belonged to, who had given it, how it had been used and where it had its place in their home. And now they come together to remind the Scarlett family what they've been through but that all is not lost. The gathered pieces are proof of their resilience and that faith is stronger than despair on the long road of healing. Thank you Constance, Mike and Kassia for giving me the honour and privilege of creating this work for you.
"Our sorrows are all, like ourselves, mortal. There are no immortal sorrows for immortal souls. They come, but blessed be God, they also go. Like birds of the air, they fly over our heads. But they cannot make their abode in our souls. We suffer today, but we shall rejoice tomorrow.”
I'm excited to announce that I have partnered with local shop owner, Melanie Ference of Chocolates & Candlelight, to bring you a new limited edition series! There are currently three of my favourite boreal forest birdies in store and I will only be offering a 5 print run of each of these images.
Those who know me will recognize that I love my time outside, and certainly enjoy the company of fine-feathered friends. Waiting quietly, listening to their song, and watching them in their world, I am a grateful spectator. Creating these images soothes my soul and I hope you will love them too.
Framed and printed on board with a matte finish, each image is sleek, modern and ready to hang. Head into Chocolates & Candlelight (on Millennium, behind Boston Pizza) to see the framed prints in person and bring a little piece of the boreal forest home with you.
Since May 3rd we've each taken roughly 2.9 million breaths. Some sharp, some deep, others gasps and most we've taken for granted. But that marvellous breath in our lungs keeps us alive. And the story behind each of those breaths intrigues me. That's why Take A Deep Breath is the theme I chose for upcoming Issue 16 of NorthWord. Early this spring, when I was invited to be the guest editor for this issue, I could have never guessed how fitting this theme would become.
Our breaths have been expelled in release and inhaled in preparation. Each one has been individual yet collective. We are unified in this time of trial but solitary in our personal experience. Although we have a long road ahead of us as the upheaval continues here in Wood Buffalo, the change in seasons also marks a time of renewal and fresh starts - a time of healing and recovery. After months of resilience, we are watching the weary forest turn gold and release its leaves. What a beautiful lesson for us all.
I invite you to enter this new season with me and begin anew. It doesn't require that everything is organized neatly. We don't have to have everything figured out in order to move forward -- what a relief that is to know! Won't you join me on an autumnal creative journey? Grab a favourite pen, purchase a new journal, pop into Starbucks for a steaming cup of coffee and most importantly, carve out a few minutes each day to write. Throughout the month of October I'll post writing prompts on my Facebook page to keep you motivated. Once the month is up, don't fret; they will be posted below! We'll explore the theme together and if you're feeling inspired, you can also work towards the goal of submitting a polished piece for NorthWord's Issue 16 October 30th deadline. (By the way, when you send your work into firstname.lastname@example.org your name is removed throughout the selection process - how freeing!)
Let's take a deep breath... and write.
Did you miss the 30 DAYS OF CREATIVE WRITING?
Why not start it now? Take a little time for 30 days to reflect, write and let your imagination run wild!
I absolutely adore installation art. Walking into a space where the entire room is a work unto itself is so captivating to me. Environmental art is an installation that becomes part of an outdoor environment and I was really excited to create within this realm. Working with Alma Louise Visscher, who is currently working within installation art, has been an invaluable opportunity. She was generous to share so much of her own process with all of us, holding workshops to show us how she uses fabric and working with us one on one as well. Many of us were inspired to take what we learned and the fabric we dyed into our own practice. For me, the process of naturally dying fabric fit perfectly within the body of work that I already had in progress.
The bundle dying technique began with the gathering of found wildflowers, which became a bit of an experiment to see how different colours, textures, parts of the plant, and plant species, responded to the dying process. I have been particularly enamoured with the vibrancy of the clover in our region this summer so I knew I wanted to grab big bundles of these purple and blue flowers. I also added dried lavender, rose and hibiscus petals that created a more defined texture. After arranging the flowers on prepared fabric, it was tightly bundled and steamed. Unrolling the piping hot bundle was an exciting part of the process - we could finally see how our "experiment" turned out!
And after it was dry and all the fragments shaken off, our fabric became the new "canvas" for our creations. Some used it just like a canvas, painting over it, others used it as clothing, and another artist framed it as is. Mine was used to create another part of my mountain work, cut and shaped into pyramids - approaching the mountain range with yet another point of view and fragmentation. These little mountains were completed and installed in Jasper National Park, bringing my Fort McMurray studio journey full circle into the Rockies themselves. I even strapped one of them to my backpack as I hiked up Wilcox Pass.
Being drawn to natural elements and processes, I loved having this beautiful fabric to create the fragile pyramids. The next step was to install the work among the trees, with the goal of recording how the created work interacted with and related to it's natural surroundings - especially concerning a variety of light conditions. Serendipitously, the trees in our campsite were perfectly spaced for me to create my environmental installation within the comfort and safety of our own space. Strewn from rough twine, they were hung among the trees, and LED tea lights were carefully placed inside for me to document the warm evening light changing to darkness. I found the transparency and colour of the fabric allowed the work to change, blend and compliment its surroundings - it felt as if they were meant to be there! Creating my own installation sparked a desire to continue to push my creative limits in so many ways.
The entire residency was a creative retreat in the midst of a time of transition - a welcome time of refinement and exploration. It was a blessing to be able to glean from our two mentors, and to dive into these six weeks in the studio with them. I was stretched and rejuvenated and oh, so grateful to have had this experience.
“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” ― Kurt Vonnegut
The fifth piece in the processing series is a diorama created with pieces of mountain photographs I have taken in the Rockies, transferred to foam core and arranged in a shadow box. I have had a million ideas percolating with the shadow box/diorama/photograph techniques and finally had the right venue to really start to work with it. Our mentor artist, Alma, showed me a new way to do photo transfers that proved to be much better for my purposes and I've been running with it ever since. I'm quite excited for some future project ideas! I just love how experimenting can spark a whole host of new ideas and options; which is one of the main reasons I do not stick to one medium or technique. There is such a freedom is mixing mediums and disciplines.
In this piece, I utilized the photo transfer technique to fragment the mountain range even further, as well as the tea painting from the first two works of the series. I loved how the natural teas complimented the natural rock from my photographs... something that wouldn't have worked quite the same if I had used watercolour or gouache. Drawing from the first four projects, this one was yet another variation of the main theme - a similarity I can recognize from my musical background. Aren't the arts lovely, how they can weave together? And gleaning from both of our mentor artists, Alma Louise Visscher and Kritsana Naowahkun, who create in different ways and mediums, was an incredibly enriching experience. Being in an environment where we could watch them at work, as well as get real-time feedback and ask questions, made the entire process so organic. The room oozed with inspiration and I know this experience will continue to fuel my practice for quite some time!
Before I ventured into the 3-dimensional diorama, I wanted to create 2-D studies to experiment with various materials and techniques, like layering or using colour. The possibilities are endless but revealing the image for the first time has to be the part that is the most fun! ;)
Early next week I'll be sharing the last part of my residency work, an environmental installation that has sparked a whole new love for installation art. And if you're in Fort McMurray, don't forget to head down to MacDonald Island to see the entire group exhibition!
In the midst of the tea mania, I began work on another part of the series. This is also the point where my "processing" theme came clearly into view. With so many ideas and directions swirling in my head - with limited time and a mentorship opportunity that I wanted to make the most of - I had to keep reining things in and figure out how it would all connect. This is where I decided that the work would be limited to the mountain and all other projects would be studies to assist these main works. (And I would revisit the other pieces after the residency.)
This 3-dimensional project was quite thrilling to work on. I planned to create a miniature version as a test piece but soon realized that if I truly wanted to know how the materials would behave, I had to dive into the large piece. The miniature version emerged again about half-way through its big brother's completion.
Using recycled cardboard, the mountain faces began to take form. Each piece of the puzzle measured, bent and formed into the next. It was taking shape as I had envisioned! I loved it just like this but knew it wasn't done yet.
The next step was to seal the cardboard and prep it for its next layers. And here, my project underwent an overhaul. I loved the all white version and wrestled with whether or not to continue. But, realizing that I was facing the fear of ruining it, I decided to dive right back in. I wasn't here to play it safe. So, I dove in and... loathed how it was unfolding. Later that afternoon we had a small group critique and even after everyone's encouragement, I knew that I had to shift gears and immediately afterward began to therapeutically scrape off what I had done. (I hated it so much I won't even show you that mess!)
Seeing the mountain range again in white, I had a personal artistic epiphany. I had an awareness of depth and light and shadows like never before. Everything came into focus. The miniature wood panel then became a study in gradient light and colour as I examined how the natural light hit and reflected off of the 3-dimensional work.
After a study in mixing neutrals and creating a proper gradient (thanks, Alma!) each colour was mixed and applied based on the natural light study, but with a greater range. Here I had flashbacks to my time with "Foxy Loxy" where I would think I was finished but after the paint dried I'd see areas that needed touching up, wouldn't have enough paint to do so, and would have to mix more paint to match the first coats - another test of patience and precision!
I am so glad that I was able to discern what was fear and when to listen to that inner critic. Working in a studio with other artists this summer confirmed my suspicions that we've all got that inner chatterbox, critiquing and questioning things at every stage. It's hard to "unsee" your work, viewing with fresh and unbiased eyes... and it's very ease to rip it apart. But knowing when to listen to that voice and when to silence it is an integral part of the process. Having mentors and fellow artists to talk through the process is even better.
Coming this week: part three of my artist in residency experience!