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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Arcadia Falls

Over the holidays I had a chance to read the novel "Arcadia Falls". I read it in a day and I really enjoyed it. My only complaint was that it got wrapped up rather quick in the end and it was hard to follow the confusing details. One this that I liked about it was that it was based on a small art school and former artist colony. The question was asked throughout the book as to whether, in the case of a woman, getting married and having children means the end of a woman's art career. Sadly this is often the case. Let's face it. If you have the responsibilities of a family and a home it leaves little time for yourself. I experience this on a daily basis. For instance, I would love to spend the next week being creative, but instead I find myself cleaning and doing laundry. I know that someone has to do these things, and I would be doing them whether I had a family or not. It's just theres so many things now that have to compete for my attention. Would I give up my children to be a full time, dedicated artist? No. However, I still long for the days when my only responsibility was myself. I still dream about living in New York with a loft studio. I still harbour many of the same dreams I used to have. However, with age and responsibility comes another thing called realism. Bills have to be paid, suppers have to be made, weekends are spent in hockey rinks. Maybe I have sold out, but I do the best I can. I teach art full time, I knit or draw at the hockey rink, I read whatever I can on the subject. And really, does being a successful artist mean you have to be featured in magazines and the recipient of large amounts of money and prestige, or does it mean you find ways to express yourself in many aspects of your daily life? Something to think about.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

New Marionette Head

Just a quick post to show you the latest porcelain head for my next marionette. She is painted with underglaze and a commercial clear glaze, then fired to cone 6. The only drawback to using porcelain is it is extremely breakable, as I have already found out when I smashed a hand and a foot on my last creation. Can't wait to get a chance to work on the rest of her.

Countdown is on!!!

Only 2 days left of teaching until the Christmas break, not that there is a lot of learning going on in the days leading up until Christmas. I'm not just looking forward to eating, sleeping and santa, but also to a few days to work on my marionettes. They've been stalled for the last month due to all the xmas preparations that inevitably get dumped into the lap of the resident woman. I managed to get 3 porcelain heads made but only painted and glazed one, as I haven't decided what to do with the other two. Most of my time has been spent madly knitting two adult sweaters. As always I left it until the last possible moment. I hope to get some time as well over the holidays to talk about the second marionette I created from wool and silk. Unfortunately there won't be much creating going on over the second week after xmas (Jan 1-8) as I will be taking my two boys and husband to Disneyworld in Orlando. I really hope we have fun, because I am only planning on doing that once. Part of me wonders what the hell I am thinking going to the pinnacle of commercialism in North America during the busiest time of the year. Long lines, screaming children, and overeating are sure to await me. However, in a weak moment I decided that this may be the last family trip we can take that includes my oldest, as he is in the forces and his second year of university. Taking family vacations will not be high on his list of priorities. I also wanted someplace fun, warm, and with something for everyone. Let's hope I made a good choice, and that the weather cooperates.

In the meantime, I made the nicest porcelain teapot, hand carved and wheel thrown, that I have ever made. However, as fate would have it, it did not survive the first firing in the kiln and came out in pieces. I scrambled to make another and it is about half the size and not as nice, but it did survive and it needs to be under someone's Christmas tree in two days. I have included a shot since I know the recipient does not read my blog.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fantastic Tim Burton Exhibit

One of my favourite creative and bizarre geniuses has to be Tim Burton. You know him from such films as Edward Scissorhands, Beatlejuice, The Nightmare Before Christmas. He can make our worst nightmares seem almost fun. This week Toronto is lucky enough to have his latest exhibit which includes not only his films but many of his art pieces as well. The venue is the Tiff Bell Centre and runs through April 2011. It is organized by the Museum of Modern Art in New York which also hosted a hugely popular exhibit of his work. The films include more than just his blockbuster hits, but also some of his student work. I am really hopeful that I can find a way to fly to Toronto to see the exhibit before it's gone.

So why am I such a huge fan? You have to admire a person who can come up with such bizarre characters and stories, create the designs for them, then put them to film. I also admit that I am a fan of the weird and strange. I went through a period where I painted nothing but cancer cells, which was a bit unsettling to some. Burtons work is very unsettling yet touching and hilarious much of the time. I wish I could create like he does. So far my marionettes are pretty tame, but who knows what could happen? If you can't make it to Toronto then check out the Tiff website and enjoy!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

I'm back, dry spell has ended!

I logged onto this blog for the first time since July. I couldn't even remember what it looked like anymore. The reason for my absence is simple. For the last year and a half I have been in a creative valley. I picked away at a painting for 2 months this summer. Nothing I did struck me as overly interesting. This is what a dry creative spell looks like, and it's not pretty. I look at others in the art/fine craft field and envy their focus. They've found their niche and have grown it. I instead have been the jack of all trades. A painter, a potter, a textile artist, a jewellery maker. I see something and I want to learn how to do it myself. The problem is, just like the jack of all trades, I have become the master of none. I was supposed to start my MFA this year, but put it off because, I told myself, it was too much money right now. The real truth was I wasn't totally committed to being a painter. I wasn't really totally committed to anything, which seems to be the story of my life.

I seem to be walking up out of the valley now, and for that I am eternally grateful. For about the last ten years I have considered doing something on and off, but two months ago it just started to seem right. I am making marionettes. Each one is unique and has their own story. I just finished my second and am already several steps ahead in my own mind. The first has a body, arms and feet sculpted out of porcelain. I clothing is made from thai silk dyed in, wait for it, maxwell house instant coffee ( I lost my dye kit and had to come up with a quick substitute). It actually left the silk a lovely shade of gold. I nuno felted her cape with wool and silk. I love her. Her name is Mother Earth Autumn. I have included a picture. My second project has been a needle felted version of my great grandmother from England. I found an old picture of her with her family in my attic. More in my next blog on how I created her and the symbolism of various parts of her dress.

After accidentally smashing one of the porcelain arms on Autumn I decided to pack her up in bubble wrap. I also had a foot stolen at school by one of my students, so had to remake one of those as well. Yes, a student stole a porcelain doll foot. I am sure it was just to annoy me, because what teenager needs a porcelain doll foot? Anyway, enjoy the photo and let me know what you think! Cheers!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

State of the Garment Industry

I watched a really good documentary today on HBO about the state of the garment industry in the United States. It was called "Schmatta: Rags to Riches to Rags". I certainly learned a lot from it and it gave me pause when thinking of my own shopping habits. Let's face it, we all like a good deal. Just look at the popularity of stores like Walmart, as well as the many dollar stores. But how often do we think of exactly why these items are so cheap? In most cases, it's because products are now manufactured overseas where people are paid dirt wages in sweat shops. Canadian and American companies cannot begin to compete with these wages, and if you want your company to survive, then you will no doubt outsource your labour there as well. The problem with this model is of course that it eliminates good paying jobs  at home. Skilled workers can't find work in their trades, and we see what's happening to our economy. I was first alerted to this issue when I read the beginning of one of my favourite books, "Alabama Stitch Book". The beginning of this design book educates the reader as to how the cotton t-shirt industry in the south of the USA has been virtually eliminated by the outsourcing of labour to other countries. The author of the book, a designer, has taken a different approach and specializes in hand made clothing, hand sewn in fact, by skilled women who used to work in the t-shirt factories. I admire her greatly for this approach. You won't find an $8 t-shirt at Alabama Chanin, but you will find quality hand made garments that are supporting local workers who are paid a fair wage. Something to think about. By purchasing discount items made in another country you are literally biting the hand that feeds you. By this I mean that as we eliminate work in our own countries, we eliminate taxpayers, people to buy the goods in our stores, people to buy the house you built, etc..... You get the picture. Just my opinion, but again, something to think about. If you want to support the art industry close to home in many of it's forms, check out Go to your farmers markets. Check out the little design shops. Support fair trade whenever possible. Remember that buying goods made elsewhere could mean that it's made by children, and it could also mean that the workers are treated unfairly, paid next to nothing, and have unsafe working conditions. So the next time you see an item of clothing that is an awesome deal, consider how it came to be that price.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Getting Noticed

As any artist knows, getting noticed in the art world is not an easy task. There are a few things that you can do however to help the process along. First, join associations that are related to your area of expertise. I myself belong to Visual Arts Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia Designer Crafts Council. Being in these organizations gives you access to newsletters, competitions, special events, and exhibition possibilities. The cost of joining these organizations is usually quite small as well. You don't need to limit yourself to local organizations. There are also excellent national organizations, such as the Canadian Painters Association or the Surface Design Association. They usually offer associate memberships if you don't feel you are at the stage where you want to face a jury.

Having subscriptions to the various art related magazines are also beneficial. Not only do they keep you up to date on the latest happenings in the art world, they also provide workshops, great photos, artist bios, etc... My favourites are Fibre Arts Magazine, Quilting Arts, Canadian Art, Threads, and Drawing (American Artist). Think about checking out the section on making submissions to the magazine. Got an idea for an article or a how-to? Check out some of the smaller publications. I recently had an excellent felting spread or several pages in "A Needle Pulling Thread". I didn't get paid, but it's great exposure, and something I can add to my resume.

Finally, there are various websites out there who's purpose is to inform artists about competions on a local, national, and international level. Two years ago I was chosen as a Canadian Artist to exhibit in Iceland through one of these sites. A word of caution. Beware some of the sites that have online exhibitions. They charge a fee for entry ( a common practice in most competitions), and you are exhibited on the site, however the only people viewing the site may be the entrants. Do your homework. I have gotten burned a couple of times this way. My favourite site for finding competitions is One final word of caution. When sending a work out for exhibition, make sure it is clear ahead of time how you will get your work returned to you and who will be footing the bill. I can one incident where I sent my paintings via regular post, but the gallery sent them back fed-ex with a HUGE pricetag that I was stuck with. Contracts are a MUST.

Good luck exhibiting!