Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Solstice

From here on in the days just get longer my friends! If that isn't reason to be thankful- I don't know what is. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Seasonal Approach

Lace mugs in my new glaze colours- I love the way they look together.

I have been working with clay again this past month- after a hiatus in which I focused on seasonal needs and demands; the garden, preserving, cooking, sewing. I missed art making, not at first- not right away- at first I reveled in the apparent freedom of giving myself the space to think up new pieces, new ideas, but in the fall I started to get twitchy- I felt the need to make some art- somehow. I had the idea that I would try to manage my pursuits in season, summer for gardening winter for art- in an attempt to manage that craziness that goes with trying to do it all simultaneously. I think it's a good idea, still- but I think I need shorter seasons.

Lace Mug with the glaze rubbed in to design, and wiped- gives the texture much sharper contrast.
I have felt very happy and peaceful seeing these pots go through their firing process, I made them last spring, and they've been nagging at me to get fired, but I knew I wanted some bright glazes, and I didn't have it sorted out yet. I'm pleased with these mugs, they are simple to make and quirky, and unique, and they are bright I think, they make me smile. I have learned a little bit from these mugs too, they need to be a bit smaller, and I'm itching to see how the colour will look if I rub it into the pattern, and then wipe it off, instead of letting it go thickly over it, which obscures the texture a bit. I also am pleased that my Chicken souffle dish worked out, It was the first time I tried an applique method, inspired by Wedgwood's Jasper ware ( I got the chicken impressions off of old toys of K's, which I made plaster moulds of,  I plan to make more with more farm animals, I love them)

 Souffle Dish with Appliqued Chickens, pretty good for a first attempt.
You see I have many hobbies, and I tend to turn my hobbies into more than just that- I will try to live solely off my garden, and to make everything we eat, and to sew my own clothes, and make my own dishes, and.... well you get the idea, I get carried away. I'm usually well able to do all those things, and to put in the effort that makes it possible, but I'm just now learning that it's not necessarily possible all at the same time, and not always with a young child in tow. The thing that I am loving about this seasonal approach is that it seems to afford me a little mental space, where I can focus on one thing at a time, and I think that allows me to grow more within each hobby.  Also, I feel renewed each time I start again, and I am astonished at how capable I am in that particular activity (the flip side of this is that worry slightly before I begin, that I have lost my knowledge), I am loving that experience of having to trust myself over and over again.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Vintage Treasures

I love thrift store shopping- I was raised on it- and whenever my mom asks you to guess how much an item cost her you should always start at 5 cents, always, sometimes it's true, and even when it's not, it's probably not too far off. Anyways- usually there isn't too much for me but I always go and check out one place in particular because they have great sewing notions, old thread, and buttons, knitting needles, lace trims, I go with whatever change I have in my pocket, and try not to spend over that amount.

The other day I was dropping off some old clothes there and went in with 2.75, and I had some great luck- five of those small blue and white plates- 25 cents each, and the red and white table runner for 75 cents- but actually it was half price! Also the jello mold for 25 cents, which I plan to use to bake coffee cake in. I left the place with change!

One of the great things about shopping at second hand stores is that usually your money is going towards a good cause,  and I love the older church -run thrift stores for exactly this reason- when you buy something at Value village- it's still Eco -friendly and all, but it's essentially mimicking a department store, and they're not a non-profit organization. When you support the smaller stores you're probably contributing to your local non-profits, and that's important, and Eco-friendly, and Human-friendly. Also, though it's less important, when you step into these stores, it's just like stepping back in time, they charge ridiculously low prices for things, and it makes me feel nostalgic and just generally happy. 

 P.S. I wasn't sure I could bake in the mold- but I looked it up- and sure enough it's just coloured aluminium, not copper, so it's safe to bake in- you wouldn't want to bake in unlined copper pans, or jello molds with any sort of varnish on them.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Monday Inspiration: Robin Hopper

Robin Hopper, Fluted Bowl, three coloured agate ware, (source)

Robin Hopper, Lidded Jar Faceted Three-Coloured agate ware, (source)
I really really want to take pottery classes from Robin Hopper. I think his works are alright- I love the agate ware he makes, to me they reference old china pottery- Wedgwood, and the early twentieth century fine china makers, and I love those references, but the rest of the pieces are sort of ho- hum to me). But what stands out about this guy is that he is so very knowledgeable about Ceramics. He wrote the book on glazes, and several other ceramic related things (literally). He doesn't just make pots, he explores them, and how they're made- his value is in the knowledge he holds about clay, not his conceptual vision as an artist.

One of the reasons that I love working with clay is that it requires an actual knowledge base, It's more than just creativity- and it's not easy to pick up, it requires study, and practice, and acquiring knowledge. It's as much a skill as it is an art- it's a fine craft, and it requires good craftsmanship- and I value that. For some artists the idea is the main thing- those artists don't care whether they make the art or a team of people carry out their ideas, to them the carrying out of it is secondary to the main concept.

I like a good concept too, but mostly I value workmanship, I value long hours trying many ideas that didn't work out to find the one sample that did work. I value lots of drawing and painting and building and planning, lots of practice, and lots of hours learning about your material or art.  Clay is different from conceptual art in that it requires that type of practice in order to make a good piece, you will be better at clay if you practice it, try it, study it, and sometimes, fail at it. But you're always stocking up your knowledge of your craft.

Making clay pieces feels that way to me in a way painting doesn't- it's a Craft. I don't mean the kind of craft where you glue pom poms to Popsicle sticks either, I mean traditional- apprentice at the age of 16, put in ten thousand hours, become a master, type of Craft.  Robin Hopper is that sort of potter, he's a Fine Craftsman, and I love that.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas Baking

Lemon Curd

Marshmallow cookies before their final chocolate coating

My Marshmallow bearded child

Sometimes a blurry picture just expresses the moment better, don't you think?
I was really getting going on my Christmas baking for a while there last week- but then the babe and I got a cold, and now the super tart lemon curd is the only thing I can actually taste- and it just tastes mildly lemony at that. So of course I've lost all desire to bake- because if you can't taste it what's the point? Ah well- the sense of smell is coming back- I can sort of smell the Christmas tree again, the babe is losing that 'glazed doughnut' face a runny nose will give you (especially if you blow your nose by making the sound with your mouth only, or better yet- just saying "BLOW" or "ACHOO" into the Kleenex, which while being hilarious, has a less funny end result).

In other news the Christmas sewing is done! So I can now focus on making eggnog and drinking egg nog, as soon as I can taste it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

In the Studio

These last few weeks have been taken up with Christmas sewing, a table runner, a present for N, more gift bags, and a bunting or two for N's room, I'm almost done though I have a few gifts to ready for the nephews and nieces, and then I can tidy away the sewing stuff, get my sewing machine in for a much needed service call, and focus on making some art. I'm really looking forward to starting 2012 with a studio clean and ready for some painting and some clay. I have few clay pieces lined up for the kiln though- and I'll actually get the glaze firing done before Christmas I think- I'm looking forward to coffee out of one of my own mugs on Christmas day.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Monday Inspiration: Tom Thompson

Tom Thompson, Birch Grove, 1915-16, (Source)

Tom Thompson, Decorative Landscape Birches, 1915 (source)
I don't think I've posted about Tom Thompson yet, I can't think why, his paintings are among my very favorite, the ones that stand out as highly influential when I think of all my 'inspiration artists'. He's commonly associated with the Canadian 'Group of Seven', though he was never officially a part of the group- he was seen a mentor to them, and he died rather mysteriously quite young, in 1917, before the group really came to seen as a "group".  He only made paintings for a short time, but his works are incredibly well known in Canada, and part of our collective art history in a very special way.

One of my dream vacations would be to pilgrimage to the National Gallery of Canada to see as many of his works as I can, I've been there before but not since I studied art- and I think that would make all the difference. I love the light in his paintings, the reddish gold quality of it- the way he paints the sky as though it's fragments of light, very appropriate to the Canadian landscape.

There is of course a group of people who feel that the Group of Seven did a disservice to Canada, by painting it as though it were an empty landscape- no people, unpopulated, even though it was populated- by Aboriginal people. If you look at the paintings through that lens yes you can object to the idea of Canada as a great wild area- with rugged scenic places, and pristine forests, which were first available to human eyes through colonization. Though I understand those critiques, I also think that the idea of Canada as a rugged wild place is surely true, even today, all it takes is a short drive north and you can be ensconced in a place in which People seem absent (even though they might not be actually absent).

Thursday, December 8, 2011

*Joy* A Winter Walk

Linking up with Sarah Jane to celebrate joy this month,  check it out!

Go West!

Oh my gosh- I've been neglecting this space lately- I know, but really I just have been full up with things to do besides blogging, and though I fell guilty enough to fess up to the neglect- apparently I don't feel guilty enough to actually post, (by the way this is exactly how I feel about washing the floor too- guilty when I don't do it often- but not guilty enough to break out the mop bucket) so anyhow- I'll just continue on like nothing happened okay? okay.

We went for a trip out west a couple of weeks ago- I was so excited to drive through the mountains, we actually only went as far Kamloops- so we drove through the Rocky Mountains, but not the Coastal Range, and I have to say I think it's an essential thing to do. I've driven through them numerous times, mostly with different people, and then a couple of time with K. I was born in Manitoba, which is the quintessential Prairie province; flat vistas, big sky, lots and lots of Horizon, and then we moved out to British Columbia when I was 8. I love both places, even though I moved back to Manitoba right after high school, but there could not be two more different types of landscapes.

If you are Canadian and have not driven through the mountains, I strongly recommend it, there is nothing so shocking as seeing these giant mounds of rock spring up out of the gradual rolling hills. When you drive from the flat lands to the foothills it sort of changes slowly- there is no moment when you can say  "now it's hilly" but the mountains are just suddenly there looming in front of you, or receding into the rear view. Also we are lucky to have really great roads through the mountains, I mean really great- with regular weather updates- and even a giant screen in most major mountain towns that advises you of road conditions, it's fantastic.

Travelling across the provinces really gives a sense of just how vast, and vastly different each part of this country is, but despite that difference, or possibly because of it, it's all uniquely beautiful.
Though if you have small children you should not expect them to be as awestruck as you are by the mountains- and your trip will go much smoother if you can manage not to be offended when your excited ravings about the mountains!- or the eagles! or the elk! are basically ignored because your child looks like this for the entire trip:
 (well, pretty much the entire trip, only looking up from the movies to snatch a cheese string from your hand, pretty much ignoring the world outside the portable dvd player- which may make you feel like a questionable parent- but will likely make your spouse rave about " making good time")

Monday, November 28, 2011

Monday Inspiration: Alfred Stieglitz

Alfred Stieglitz, Two Towers -- New York, 1911, photogravure. (source)

Alfred Stieglitz, Icy Night, 1893. (source)

Stieglitz is most famous to me as Georgia O'Keeffe's husband- several of his photographs are of her- he especially loved her hands- which to me seems so romantic, and artistic. But actually he was one of the most accomplished photographers of his time, and He owned a gallery in which he helped to launch the careers of several artists, O'Keeffe included. His own photographs are magical though, and they make it difficult to believe that photography ever was (or still is) held in question as an art form.

I guess the thing is- photography takes place mostly in a machine- the way that the artist makes the art is by manipulating that machine or a manipulating a series of chemicals or timing during processing. I think we still have a bit of a notion of art making as a skill- a hands on one, in which the artist does some work with their hands, and it's not actually to do with mental knowledge, or training. And photography is all about knowledge, and observation.

The amazing things about Stieglitz' work is the way he captures a moment, and the way his images are composed - the way a branch juxtaposes against two buildings, the way a child's dark dress contrasts, her mother's white one.  The skill that is most often looked over in artists, the thing that makes them profoundly different from people who don't make art- is the way they observe things, moments, fleeting or drawn out- are analyzed in a different way when one becomes trained to observe the world closely. Observation and perception are the first things you are taught as an artist, and also the first things to slip your mind when life gets busy.

Art (or Life) are all about noticing the things that usually would pass you by.  I think that noticing makes life richer, and that's why we prize art- because it makes us aware of things that we usually wouldn't be. Stielglitz' images make me want to stop and stare at things, they make me aware when my own powers of observation are slipping, and they gently tap my head like a good teacher would- and whisper "Pay Attention!!"

Monday, November 21, 2011

Monday Inspiration: Emily Carr

Emily Carr, Self Portrait, 1938-39, (source)

Emily Carr, Indian Church, 1929, (source)

Emily Carr, Loggers' Culls, 1935, (source)

Emily Carr is one of Canada's best known female artists, She is almost included in the Group of Seven, but not quite, her style is similar, and her subject matter is more west coast- almost exclusively west coast actually. She is famous for her paintings of Haida Gwaii, the islands off the west coast of Canada, in British Columbia. When I lived in B.C, I took her work for granted. The feeling of awe that those evergreen forests inspire is so obvious to anyone who visits them- let alone anyone who visits them regularly, it's a given that they would tower and become the center point of any image- making the sky and land swirl around them.  But now that I'm away form those forests, I see the paintings as what they are- a reminder of the awesomeness, the sacredness of that area.

Emily Carr was staunchly against logging these old growth forests, and she admired the people of Haida Gwaii for the way they lived in nature, and respected the landscape around them. Her paintings are a call for everyone to see the special quality of that place, and to be reminded of how important they are. I love the way she makes her central figures stand out by employing a slightly skewed perspective in the rest of the image, and her confidant use of colour. I think it's useful to look at her work occasionally, just to remind myself of it. Like any well known artist, it's easy to take for granted the greatness of it, without looking at it to see why it's great, and it's the analyzing that makes you a better artist or an observer, that actually does the work itself justice.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Kale Chips

I'm probably the last person on the internet to try Kale chips, and I'm so sorry I've waited-  crispy, healthy, delicious-ness! I used this recipe, adn I highly recommend it- so easy, and tasty!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

At home pants

I've been sewing pants for N to wear this winter, and I think I've got all the kinks ironed now- though she grew out of them the day after I finished them- so I had to add some panels to the fronts of them. I started with this tutorial, and then made some changes as I went- adding a contrasting waistband, 
initially because I made them too short waisted, but then because I liked the look of it. And then I added the flat panels in front (which also have a pleat in them, so that I can unpick it when she grows and they'll last a little longer), because she literally grew out of all three pairs of pants overnight.

They're very slim through the hips which is perfect for her non diapered bum, and they're reversible, with Flannel on one side and cotton on the other, which makes them super super cozy, and easy to bum around the house in. The unforeseen bonus of lining child's pants with flannel is that the pants will also sop up most of the accidents that happen while you potty train said child. In fact they're so absorbent that the pee doesn't even get a chance to hit the ground! (my amazement here proves an unspoken rule- never eat anything off the ground of a house that has potty training kids in it. never. ever.)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Monday Inspiration: William Kurelek

William Kurelek, The Ukrainian Pioneer, 1971-76, (source)
William Kurelek, I Triumphed and I Saddened With All Weather, 1970. (source
Willian Kurelek, Across the River from the Capitol, 1976, (source)

I'm a bit shamefaced to say that I haven't taken much notice of William Kurelek before now- but he's an icon in the Canadian art world, and has written a few books I should probably add to N's collection.  I think it's easy to write off his paintings as naive folk works- idealizing the family and Canadian living. Actually, they are beautifully painted whimsical pieces, with a melancholic undertone that creates a pause in me when I look at them.

The idea that whimsy, or happiness even, when portrayed in art is somehow less instructive- or real- is very tenacious, and I feel as though it's more than a little unfair. It goes deep into our conceptions of the suffering artist, the one who creates the best work in the depths of a crack addiction, and it's unfair and unhealthy. The idea that one needs a source of misery to create good art is ludicrous, though in fact Kurelek created most his work as a way of dealing with his depression.

I love the idea of dealing with mental illness though art- and I think it's remarkable that even though Kurelek himself was depressed- and battling that negativity- he created work that is uplifting, and quietly positive, it's as though he was asserting a new normal through his works. I think that it's important to look on both sides of things through art- which means not necessarily focusing on the negative or traumatic, but also exploring the good- the idealistic, the warm memories. Which is not to say that one should only focus on those things- but just that work that is whimsical in content shouldn't be discounted.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


"To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayl of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Friday, November 4, 2011

In the Garden

The last of the produce is in the house- while pulling the last of the Carrots- which filled two crisper drawers to the brim, we found the cutest carrot of all- The Baby and Mama carrot. It so perfectly embodies the symbol for a mama holding a baby I feel like I should draw it. How awesome is Nature  that it creates such beauty just for the heck of it?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Happy Halloween!

The puppy costume was a big hit, the face paint I had planned to add- not so much- I had such big plans- but only got barely halfway through and she was not loving it, to put it mildly. So off it came, next year maybe.  She had a blast, anyhow, and thoroughly enjoyed her "treats" which she shared well with all of us.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Nothing Makes me Happier...

The sight of a sleeping Toddler is heaven, no matter where she's sleeping. N still sleeps with us in our big bed, she always has, and even though some people think that means she always will I know better. I know that one day in the not too distant future she'll rather die than sleep cuddled up to me, she'll probably want to keep secrets from me, and avoid telling me the whole truth about what went on at that party, or at that school dance. She'll try not to smile when I make a joke, and she'll want to go shopping on her own, or worse, just with her friends.

I know these days are coming, the days when I am not her best friend, when I will have to ask for hugs, and she'll want me to stop dancing, or hugging her, or grooming her, at least in public. And so who can blame me that I hug her tighter at night, now, when she wants me to? I know it will come to an end one day, she will not be two forever, she is already starting to assert herself, to tell us (the lowly parents) to stop singing or dancing, or hugging, and even if we have to force her hand a little one day soon she'll be snuggling up to a stuffed toy in her own bed, and then I'll have days and days of sweet memories of holding my little girl close.