Wednesday, 26 December 2007

A Not-White Christmas

A Brown Christmas

Once again, it was a brown Christmas here: not warm enough to sit out on the deck, sipping wine in our shirtsleeves, as it was two years ago, but nice enough to go for a three-hour walk along the river and not regret the adventure.

(Unlike today, with limited visibility because of blowing snow, and considerably colder temperatures.)

At 8.42 kg, our turkey was too big for our small propane BBQ, but we managed to fire up the 'que Christmas Eve for a slightly delayed anniversary dinner of rare buffalo tenderloin accompanied by our last 1998 Malivoire Old Vines Foch.

Despite some cork "issues" and a fair bit of sludge, the wine was terrific: lots of fruit, great nose and legs, and it hung in for the whole dinner.

Wish I could be as complimentary about our main turkey wine, which was a 2003 Estate Pinot Gris from Cedar Creek (usually very nice, and extremely reliable), although the Wolfberger Crémant d'Alsace (our regular supplier was sold out of Cipes) we had before, and the 2004 Gehringer Brothers Late Harvest Riesling for afters, were terrific.

And drifting off to sleep last night, to the wonderful scent of gently simmering turkey stock, was pretty nice, too.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Look up, look waaaaaaay up

Oil Derrick

(And since I've had recent problems with pictures being published on a commercial website, remember, you can't do that without my permission. Thanks!)

It's been a busy time here and at the shop, where I'm putting in a lot of hours, although almost two weeks ago, I managed to get out to the Calgary December Flickrmeet to Heritage Park. Cold day it was -- my feet were numb for some time outside -- but a gorgeous sunny one.

Used to like going to the park when I was younger, although now I notice that, like many City of Calgary-owned facilities, they are trying for more of a commercial orientation that a strictly historically accurate one. Case in point is the new construction in their parking lot versus the rescued historical buildings, like the old oil derrick above, that populate the original section of the park. The rest of the pictures I took on the adventure are here

While warming up my feet in the Christmas market, I looked at the stalls set up inside. Although one had some nice historical books about trains, and another had some rather tasteless (well, to me!) antiques, virtually everything else was dust-collecting junk that bore Made in China stickers.

As a local craftsperson, it would have been nice if they had a lot of regionally produced things, but such items (and a very few of them at that) were only found in the souvenir shop inside the main gate. Very disappointing, although I must admit that there weren't a whole lot of sales in the Christmas market either. Perhaps the organizers might learn their lesson and change that for next year (hint, hint).

One big advantage in refusing to take part in the excessive consumption movement is that we haven't spent much time at the stores -- our joint Christmas/anniversary present this year was the four weeks of curling lessons we finished last Saturday. Popped into Home Depot last Sunday afternoon and it was practically empty: no wonder I like shopping there!

We'll pick up our free-range turkey on Sunday, I'll make two stuffings on Monday, and we'll have our traditional brunch on Tuesday (Eggs Benedict with croissants instead of muffins, and smoked salmon instead of ham) before popping the turkey into the oven and setting off on our Christmas stroll in the local "wilderness."

Since we saw a very well-fed coyote two years ago, the pictures I'll post on Boxing Day could well be interesting.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Class Books

Book models
It was a nasty, dark, cold, windy, snowy day here last Sunday: just the sort of day any normal person would take one look at, then pull the covers over their head, and go back to sleep.

Of course, I got up, lugged a big bag of stuff (cutting board etc.) over to the bus, and took a day-long class on accordion books with Cathryn Miller. Am I ever glad I did! Some of my creations from that fun and busy day are pictured above: if you click on the picture, it will take you to Flickr, where I added some descriptions of each item.

And by the time I got home, after just missing a bus and having to wait at the cold and windy bus stop in the dark for more than half an hour, I was convinced that this was going to be a really crummy week.

Well, weather-wise, it sure has: today is the first day with lots of sunshine and I feel so much more energetic.

But book-wise, it's been great, as I received a letter from the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild in response to the three books I entered in their Art of the Book 08 competition. The Zebra Book (below) made the first cut of entries and I will be sending it to Toronto in the new year for the second stage of judging.

The other problem I've been wrestling with is what to do about the cover of What I Felt: I've got two great pieces of felt that I've made, and an increasing wariness of using them on the boards for the covers. Their thickness, in particular, is something I'm not entirely convinced really works here.

So I'm definitely looking at using paper on the boards instead, and using the felt to make an enclosure instead: this is certainly influenced by discussions that arose in my class with Cathryn.

This book is one I want to get done with soon: it will need to be photographed before I send it off to Victoria for the Pacific Festival of the Book.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

All Washed Up


I've been remiss about posting because at my first curling lesson last Saturday, I went thump on my backside while learning -- obviously not well enough! -- to walk on the ice sheet while wearing a slider.

To be kind, sitting down in one spot for more than a few minutes at a time this week hasn't been one of life's more comfortable adventures.

There's no swelling, the rather nasty bruise (think small Japanese eggplant) is going, and I no longer feel like I've been run over by a Zamboni.

In my previous entry, I mentioned about going to Vancouver with camera in hand, and before I did my poor imitation of Pat Ryan (a well-known Canadian mens curler with a penchant for sprawling flat out on the ice after delivering his shots), I sat down and started tinkering with Photoshop Elements 4 on my Mac.

While I didn't tinker with the colour of the washed-up bit of seaweed in the picture above, I did turn the rest of the shot into a black-and-white one.

While walking around Stanley Park two weeks' ago, we noticed a floating kelp bed to the east of Prospect Point: a good sign for the ecological health of Burrard Inlet.

Thursday, 22 November 2007


Snowman Army
The amount of holiday chocolate that's come through the doors of the chocolate shop I work at part-time is amazing: there are hundreds of Santas, trees, dreidels, and, indeed, snowmen stashed in the back room.

Spent three days in Vancouver, visiting type designer and letterpress guru Jim Rimmer's studio and having dinner with friends. Also took loads of pictures at the Capilano Salmon Hatchery for an upcoming book I'm knitting and writing, attended the Alcuin Society's Wayzgoose, and checked out Fibre Essence gallery with the amazing work of thr3fold.

It was the first time I had been back in Vancouver since my mother died there last year, and it felt strange to wander around with no specific parental-related errands or duties to do in far too many years.

Perhaps the best part of the trip was being able to have a few hours of my own Landscape as Muse time in Stanley Park (the Seawall, which had been closed after severe damage in storms a year ago, reopened on Friday), wandering the shoreline and parts of the rainforest, inhaling the fresh air, and revisiting some of the places I used to frequent both as a child and when I lived in the West End in the late 1970s.

While I came back physically tired, I returned with a renewed sense of purpose, charged up with additional ideas to combine with projects already in planning, and a desperate need to cook food in my own kitchen.

Monday, 12 November 2007

The Experimental Process


When I was in Victoria last March (for the Pacific Festival of the Book), I picked up a monoprint kit (with frosted mylar "plates," a range of papers, and instructions) from Alesha Davies Fowlie: it's taken me until this past weekend to actually play around with it.

Given I want to incorporate monotypes in My Past Life, I figured I had better start learning.

Between Alesha's notes, some Google searches, and the wonderful book Monotype: Mediums and Methods for Painterly Printmaking by Julia Ayres, I managed to create five small prints, using both watercolour paints and pencils.

Both dishwashing soap and gum arabic were used to assist in getting the colour off the frosted mylar and onto the soaked and blotted paper, and several different papers (including some old watercolour pads I had in my collection): I thought I'd play around a bit to see what worked best for me.

Of the five prints I created, I got two that I'm rather pleased with: the one at the top of this entry riffs off a photograph I took at last month's FlickrMeet.

I used gum arabic as the release agent here, and my watercolour tray. In the past, I've used solid watercolours (I've got an old Grumbacher set), but I can see where ones in a tube would be better suited for monotypes.

The second one I quite like is a sketch using watercolour pencils, dry, on detergent-coated mylar: I used the opportunity to create a study for one of the pieces I plan on knitting as part of My Past Life.

Monday, 5 November 2007

George Blooms!

George in bloom
Wasn't quite expecting it so soon, but was very pleasantly surprised when I discovered an open blossom on George last Thursday. When you consider his stick isn't two inches (5 cm) wide, and the flower is bigger than 1/2 inch (1 cm), it's really pretty neat.

Strange thing though: all the material I've read on Leptotes unicolor said that it would be some shade of mauve or purple, and this flower was white.

All I had to do was wait, as this is what he looked like this morning.
Changing colours
Isn't nature wonderful?

Monday, 29 October 2007


Leather Cover

I've always been a big believer in being in the right place at the right time, and seeing what happens.

Sometimes, it hasn't worked out -- there's at least one reason why I've been divorced twice -- but sometimes, the results can be sublime.

In July, I went to see Dougie Maclean play: he's a fine Scotsman with a self-deprecating humour and a wonderful voice. One of the songs he did at the concert was based on the story of the Lewis Chessmen, an amazing archaeological find near Uig on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland in 1831.

While Dougie sang, he passed two pieces from his replica set through the audience. When the queen came to me, I clutched it tightly and felt something: with a traceable Scottish heritage that dates to almost the same time as the creation of the chess pieces, even the plastic casting reminded me of where I come from.

And so began the largest-scale book/fibre project I have attempted thus far.

With a working title of My Past Life, I've started a separate blog to document the process, which can be found here.

In case you were wondering, the picture at the top is fish leather, made from descaled perch that has been tanned, coloured, and given a smooth finish: it's pretty neat stuff, and I'm planning to use it for the cover of the book part of My Past Life.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

An Adventure

Sunday was a fun day: I finally had an available day to go to one of our local Flickr meets and had a great time hiking up on Nose Hill in the northwest part of town.

Rather than bore you, my faithful readers, with non-scintillating narration, here are a few pictures of our adventure, with more on my Flickr page.

Rosehips, the seed pods of the wild rose, the provincial flower of Alberta
End of season

There's an old mobile communications tower up on the hill and it's been recently repainted. Strangely enough, it's not covered in nasty graffiti, which was refreshing.
Can You Hear Me?

There's a lot of habitat restoration happening, with several areas blocked off near an old gravel pit.
Restoration Fence

When I first started taking pictures (with a Brownie Hawkeye), it was in black and white: Photoshop lets me relive those days by draining the colour from a shot taken at our post-hike hot beverage stop.
Bench at Heartland

Monday, 15 October 2007

The Blogging Lifestyle

Interesting how thoughts from disparate conversations in the past week have ended up revolving around blogs. It's just a bit more than seven months since I started this one, and while I haven't set any records for activity -- although I have a growing subscriber base, thanks! -- the fact is that if you're here, it's because you're a friend, you're interested in what I'm doing, or you searched for something I've talked about or information about Lasqueti Island.

In other words, I'm not controversial, and that's probably a good thing for my reputation, although not for my statistics.

When I was volunteering at WordFest here last week, I got into a number of conversations with several authors, including those who have been slammed by bloggers (Matthew Skelton, for instance), and those who have recently embraced the blogosphere, like Meg Tilly and Gail Anderson-Dargatz.

Meg and Gail (who are truly nice people, as well as dynamite writers) like the feedback from readers, and I tend to agree with them about the sort of people who actually make blogs a worthwhile and interactive vehicle: they are genuinely interested about what the artist is doing, and thoughtful and considerate in their responses.

Imagine, then, my surprise in reading Christie Blatchford's denigration of blogs over the weekend in The Globe and Mail. While I understand, and certainly sympathize with, her feelings of being "used" by a passing stranger who wanted a picture of her and her magnificent Bull Terrier Obie for his blog, tarring us all with the same nasty brush wasn't exactly appropriate either.

Perhaps more people should have gone to AIGA's seminar on Saturday entitled Blog O'Fear: Rules and Etiquette of Blogging....

Like it or not, blogs are here to stay: even WordFest designated Hal Niedzviecki as official blogger, although, um, it struck me as being more like one of the ones that Christie was complaining about: having seen him in "action," I'd mark that down too many beverages and not enough sleep.

Other than the folks mentioned above, I got to hand out food and drinks (working in the hospitality suite) and occasionally chat with some wonderfully funny and brilliant people, particularly A.L. Kennedy (her web contact page is a brief sample of her wicked sense of humour), talk knitting with Gil Adamson, and tell Dave Bidini how reading The Best Game You Can Name was the mandatory humour therapy I needed on my trip to Vancouver after my mother died.

And I can't finish this entry without at least mentioning Sylvain Meunier (merci beaucoup pour le livre!), Cary Fagan, Niels Hav, D.J. MacHale, Valerie Mason-John, Morganics, Richard Scrimger, Jane Urquhart, Elizabeth Hay, Anna Porter, and the Mexican tag-team of Minerva Margarita Villarreal and Daniel Sada.

Thanks all, you made my week.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

George of the Jungle

George of the Jungle

When I was at the Foothills Orchid Society's annual show a couple of weeks ago, I bought a nicely mounted Leptotes unicolor to bring home.

I used to belong to the group in the late 1980s, and have had an orchid fixation since grade six, when I was junior bridesmaid at my cousin's wedding and she had a big Cattleya in her bouquet, which I caught.

(We also had a lot of orchids, including a vanilla, in the greenhouse when I was a docent at the Queens Botanical Garden when I lived in New York in the early-mid 1980s.)

As he's native to the Amazon basin, I thought "George" was an appropriate name. He's obviously happy in his new home (a small open-topped aquarium I've put rocks in the bottom of and poured water on to provide much-welcome humidity here in arid Calgary), as his subsequent root growth on the back of his 1.5-inch wide (37.5 mm) mounting stick is very obviously green and he's developed a nice little flower spike.

Despite his size, his flowers will be almost as big as his stick -- pretty amazing for such a small plant! Stay tuned for more pictures as he blooms.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

And what will the weather be?

Fall in Calgary

Last Wednesday at dinnertime, we had wind, rain, ice pellets, thunder-snow, and then the sun broke through -- all in less than half an hour.

A busy week here: days are split between the chocolate shop and volunteering at Wordfest, with a little fibre thrown in. I've finished two more scarves for sale, have a third nearly done, and just some minor finishing on a shrug.

In the evenings, the National Hockey League is back up and running full time, and it appears that a new addition to our digital television service is a rather extensive set of channels running multiple hockey games gratis. Bummer (not!).

Had a nice wander yesterday on Thanksgiving Day (Canuck version: Columbus Day for you 'Murrican folks) and did a bit of typespotting: check out my Flickr photostream for the latest captures.

Just a reminder: the group show I'm in at Arts on Atlantic opens this Saturday, and I will be in attendance for the closing reception on Saturday, November 3, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Pop in and have a chocolate truffle or two.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Jimi was right....

The Urban Jungle

I was never much of a Doors fan, but I always liked the line No time to wallow in the mire from Light My Fire: the past week has been a mire-and-a-half.

Have I ever mentioned the love/hate relationship I have with artistic juries? It's been a lot more hate than love lately: I got word last week that three separate ones turned me down, the last two within four hours on Friday. A compensatory lunch of sushi with industrial-strength wasabi helped me cope with the first one, while a few cans of Rock Creek Cider (a product of Big Rock Brewery) were a fine anesthetic for the second.

Of course, I can rationalize all the jury decisions, and would probably sympathize with most of them, but at the time, they didn't make me feel very good.

So on Saturday, I went to the Foothills Orchid Society's Annual Show and Sale, which helped a lot. Got a couple of nice pictures of award winners, and had a lovely walk on a fall day through the far western edge of Confederation Park, where I snapped the picture at the top of this entry.

Spent some time yesterday volunteering at the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild booth at Word on the Street, which was interesting: I enjoyed the opportunity to show the work of some of the other local members, and exchange ideas.

C'mon, baby, light my fire....

Sunday, 23 September 2007

A Busy Week

Everything Entrelac

Just after I put up the previous entry, I found out that Deb Pulliam died last May. Unless you are a serious fibre addict, that name probably won't register with you: she wrote great articles in SpinOff (among other places), talking about historical knitting, spinning, and dyeing.

We never met in person, but had a lively, if infrequent e-friendship, especially when I was learning to spin and exploring how to use my handspun in projects -- one article she had in SpinOff was about dyeing some yarn with lichens, and turning the result into socks that riffed off the Elizabeth Zimmerman afterthought heel.

These were the first socks I ever knit, despite my mother being a hardcore sock knitter -- I don't think my dad, in the forty years they were married, ever wore a "bought" sock. Shortly thereafter, I knit the pair of socks whose cuff is shown above, and the rest, as "they" say, is history.

Deb had breast cancer, and was barely two years older than me: we both started Masters degrees at the same time as well, and shared many stories about the mixed results of going back as mature students, and trying to keep our sanity at the same time.

I've thought a lot about her this past week. RIP.

The rest of the week has been filled with mostly ups: I'm starting to actually feel that I'm accomplishing something at my part-time job; interviewed Roch Carrier, the iconic Canadian writer/playwrite/former head of the Canada Council and the National Library for CJSW, and got the news that I'm scheduled to teach two classes (Everything Entrelac and Reversible Knitting) at Olds College's Fibre Week 2008.

However, I made the mistake on Thursday of attending an event run by the guild I used to belong to: in the end, I should have gone with my gut instinct and not bothered. One attendee pitched a major hissy fit, and I had two people tell me how much they "hated knitting" as I sat there working away on another knitted scarf for the Alberta Craft Council Shop.

sigh Time to move on: I'm supposed to hear whether or not I've been accepted to the residency at the Banff Centre this week, as well as if I get a solo show at the Alberta Craft Council.

Cross your fingers....

Monday, 17 September 2007

Ups and Downs

Against A Morning Sky

Snow one day, heat the next, rain and wind the day after: ah, fall in Calgary.

Working a real job has been interesting, although coming down with a nasty cold on Thursday limited me to only two days. While I sat at home, alternating drinking orange juice and sleeping, I was pleased to receive notice that my production knitting work has been accepted for sale in the Alberta Craft Council Shop, which will help fund my activities for next year.

Still no word about the Banff residency, although it should be soon -- no news is good news, I hope, ditto with the solo show application I submitted -- but I don't expect to hear anything about the grant for awhile yet.

So I contend myself with knitting (I've been working on the commissioned tea cosy, another scarf, and finishing up a mohair shrug), work, and take my camera out on adventures. The shot above is from a small park near our home that is planted with a range of plants from around the world, thriving in a protected micro-climate. I figured I had better go up there sooner rather than later, and it was a good move, as today is cool, raining and windy, and these leaves won't last much longer....

And I've been thinking a lot, which can be a mixed blessing: it always means more work!

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Change is Inevitable


Yes, this is real snow at Highwood Pass in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, and barely an hour west of Calgary. It's not unusual to have snow the beginning of September up in the mountains (the pass is at 7238 feet or 2206 m), and as this is one of the highest public paved roads in Canada, it makes sense that one would see it here.

And I've walked away from a volunteer commitment I've had for more than two years: paying money to work my butt off and then get slagged for refusing to lie for people isn't my idea of "fun." Part of me wishes I could say I'm going to miss being part of the group, but I won't: the friends I've made know where to find me, and the others can indulge themselves to their hearts' content.

Apart from a couple of months pretending to be a file clerk last fall, I've managed to just be the artist for a year. In that time, I've completed a lot (well, for me!) of projects, have a half-dozen or so in various stages of dyeing, spinning, knitting, or paper model construction, and another dozen or so ideas in my handy sketchbook.

The down side has been that I've been spending too much time without human contact: no, Facebook and iChat don't really count.

So I've found myself the perfect antidote -- a part-time job. It's in our neighbourhood, a five-minute or so walk from home, and they're happy with me not working most evenings and weekends, so I can spend time being the significant other.

It's not the money, although I've got a long list of books and tools I'd like to buy, but the social interaction and the exchange of ideas with others in the two or three days a week I'll be working that I'm really looking forward to.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Name That Font

You wait, and wait, and wait....
At last, I'm finally done with writing applications and grant forms -- not that waiting to hear results is much fun either, but now I can get back to knitting (I've accepted a commission for a tea cosy for a very large ceramic teapot) and making books after a too-long hiatus.

And more type-spotting, which I've now started taking more pictures of. I love type, whether working with it in longer publications or even the small books that I do, and I'm getting fractionally better at identifying some of the much more common ones.

Granted, after seeing the documentary film Helvetica, I can now relate to what Gary Hustwit (the director) said at the screening here in June: I see it everywhere now. I'm really looking forward to getting my DVD in November.

Oddly enough, however, you don't see much Helvetica here in Calgary, but it's certainly out there, and since I saw the movie, I've made it my default font in TextEdit (the program I use to write this blog in before I cut-and-paste it into Blogger), so without boring the un-typographically inclined, I won't go into excessive details, or rant about some fonts I see far too often.

But if you're interested in what's out there, you can check out Typophile, a rough-and-tumble website with some terrific experts from around the world, including my good friend Yves Peters, who lives in Belgium and writes the Unzipped blog.

And if you're in Calgary or coming here for a visit, a few of us have started up a little local group: once a month, we meet up, do a little show-and-tell of type-related projects, have a bite to eat and the occasional beverage, and talk about type. Email me if you'd like date and location details.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Still "In Progress"

Still in progress

I started working on What I Felt more than a year ago, soon after my mother died: Alzheimer's began to take over her brain just as I started graduate school in 1998, but I know she would have been thrilled to see the work I've been doing with books in the last couple of years.

Regular readers of this blog will recall seeing some of my previous tales in bringing this book into the world, and I figured it's about time you actually saw the text block for it. In fact, there are two: the one pictured above, and another labelled Artist Proof that will be sent to the creator of the typeface I used.

Before I iron the fusible webbing onto the back of the felt covers, I'm going to feather out the edges of the felt a bit, much like one would pare down leather covers to eliminate some of the bulk. I was hoping to get to that this past week, but I've been slogging my way through writing two more applications (one for a solo show and one for a grant).

And I've got to get them done today, as I'm heading up to Edmonton to hand-deliver both, do a little gallery-crawling, take some pictures of type, and visit with a few friends.

So back to the grindstone!

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

My Mental Health Place

Standish Lookout

It's cranially challenging when every week is "one of those weeks," and that's what it has felt like lately here.

Keeping my fingers crossed, I needle-felted the most recent incarnation of covers for What I Felt and even managed to pick up a supply of blue tatami paper from Lisa Isley at In A Bind, my local bookbinding supply emporium.

(And, um, well, picked up some other papers and another sheet of book board, so I think I'm set for that sort of stuff for awhile. I hope!)

I haven't used the fusible webbing to weld the paper to the felt yet, but I'm hoping to next week. After that, it should be a simple matter of gluing the covers to the boards and attaching the text blocks, assuming all goes well....

Most of the rest of my week saw me figuratively chained to my computer, pounding away at the two documents I need to finish by the time I go up to Edmonton next Wednesday.

Then there was the Sheep-to-Shawl at the Millarville Fair on Saturday, where we did pretty good by coming in second: no one, and I mean no one, could have beat out Sheep Creek Weavers with their glorious ikat-dyed warp and black weft. Unfortunately, I had battery problems with my camera and was unable to get pictures.

Thankfully, I got the camera problems straightened out before we headed up to go hiking up at Sunshine Village on Sunday. Not the nicest day, with scattered drizzle and a north wind, but it certainly reduced the crowd on the bus up (it wasn't half-full) and along the trails: the picture at the top of this entry is a panorama of shots I took from the Standish Lookout (a larger version can be found here).

The best part was the overcast made taking pictures of the prolific wildflowers much easier, and the peace and quiet of the mountains was the appropriate counterpoint for the craziness of the rest of the week and what I know will be another ten days of flat-out hard work.

Monday, 13 August 2007

A Colourful Saturday

Dye Day 2007

Apartments aren't usually the best places to live in if one likes to use toxic substances, so one of my favourite events is Dye Day at my guild, when I get a chance to work with acid dyes that I normally wouldn't use at home.

The three good-sized skeins at the bottom, and the fall-coloured roving at the top is what I came home with (the bit of dyed roving top left was done for a friend): as they've dried, they are now more subtle, but not quite pastel. I've got some ideas to use them up that I hope to sketch out this week.

And this weekend is another fun event, as I captain our team at the Millarville Fair's Sheep-to-Shawl competition. We start with a prewarped loom, then three spinners and one weaver use fleece from a freshly sheared sheep to card, spin, and weave off a shawl within three hours.

It's a blast, and I really enjoy getting out to show the public that what we do isn't complicated and still has relevancy in our high-tech world: I'll have pictures of it up next week.

But the best part of the weekend will be Sunday, as we are going hiking up at Sunshine Village. We'll be too late to see the alpine meadow flowers, but I don't care: if the day is clear, we'll get to see Mount Assiniboine and, with luck, some wildlife.

I was up about the same time last year, and saw four bighorn rams by being the first person up the Grizzly/Larix Lakes trail in the morning. If I could spend eternity in just one place, it would be there.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

A Productive Week

Nature's Helicopter, Bug Division Part Two

When you grow up in Calgary, as I did, going to Banff is pretty ho-hum: it's an hour and change west, the skiing and hiking are terrific, and the Upper Hot Springs are amazing on a -40 winter's day.

Tucked above the townsite is the Banff Centre, home to a well known management and leadership program, as well as some fabulously creative writing, arts, music, dance, and cutting-edge work.

So last Wednesday, I went up to deliver my application form for a two-month artist residency there. The application process is daunting: many forms to fill out, strict requirements on the number of words one must write for various sections, the usual finicky dictates for submitting pictures of work, and so on.

And all in the requisite typeface and size, specific order, of course -- much of what I was grumping about here, in fact -- and was a process that I spent the better part of the last two months working (and frequently obsessing) on.

Imagine how pleased I was to get an email (sent an hour after delivering the precious package up to the Registrar's Office, no less) to let me know that it was accepted, complete, and would be referred to the jurying committee. I figure my odds there are a crapshoot -- they always are with juries, I think -- but at least I did good on the forms.

What a relief to finally get it out and accepted in time to spend the weekend with our friends from out-of-town at the big dog show and only have to think about getting back to doing "art" again. Being mosquito season, we were sure glad to see a lot of dragonflies down at the site as well, which is where I snapped the big fellow who's at the top of this entry (full-sized version here).

One project I've had in the planning stages for some time has to do with insects, and I might just use this picture in it -- I think I'm starting to get more comfortable and competent with my camera.

Monday, 30 July 2007


My mother always used to say that deaths came in threes, and they certainly have.

Bill Walsh coached the San Francisco 49ers in their glory years and they really haven't been the same since.

Ingmar Bergman was an amazing film director -- I remember watching Fanny and Alexander when I lived in New York City and thinking it was one of the most beautiful movies I had ever seen. Next to Akira Kurosawa, Bergman is my favourite non-English film director.

And last, but certainly not least, Tom Snyder. I never liked much late-night television: if I was up that late, I wasn't watching television. (I was probably working or sitting in a bar somewhere.)

But Tomorrow with Tom Snyder was another creature all together: he was funny, asked enormously brilliant questions, and never hesitated to call someone an idiot when they were (which was often!). When the show was cancelled, I was not happy.

As "the business" goes, of course, he ended up getting a gig at WNBC-TV, the NBC affiliate in New York, in 1985, just before I left. They had a great advertising campaign for him on the subway, with a full head shot, and a long list of descriptors.

It was so terrific and memorable, that someone actually produced T-shirts with the same script.

Tom Snyder Tshirt

I bought one just before I left: I'll wear it proudly in memoriam.

Rest in peace, gentleman: you will all be missed.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

La vie artistique

It's almost a year since I decided to pursue being an artist as full-time as possible and it has been pretty interesting, to say the least.

Probably the best part is being able to squeeze out a day like last Friday to wander in the wilderness and become inspired. The record snowpack is still causing localized flooding up in Canmore, where I caught this scene.

Bow River

And although I'm not exactly sure it qualifies as "fun," I've been learning a lot about the business side of art and what I need to do to get out there, some of which is greatly outside my comfort zone.

One of those things has involved upgrading myself on Flickr and organizing my pictures better: that's been my task yesterday and today. It's something that has let me exercise my skills as an editor and indexer to tag the public photographs of my artist books and fibre work.

Another is the amount of time I spend filling in forms and massaging photographs of my work to enter competitions, apply for grants, and promote my work for sale: it's an astounding amount of time that gets sucked away from the actual "creation" of art.

Something I find occasionally irritating is that each one has some really offbeat requirement: whether they specify "digital files exactly 300 x 400 pixels, horizontal, 72 dpi, and labelled just so" or "if you think you might need a hammer, you need to fill out a three-page request."

I feel a great deal of compassion for artists who do brilliant art, but aren't computer-savvy: these days, if you don't know how to use Photoshop or extract a page from a PDF form and turn it into something you can fill out, you can be shut out from a lot of opportunities.

Monday, 16 July 2007

If at first you don't succeed....

Well, I made another piece of felt this morning to use for the cover of What I Felt. (My previous misadventures can be found here.)

This seems to be much more successful: I still made only three layers, but they are considerably thicker. Rather than simply giving it a gentle circular massage, I gave it a good rolling back and forth (taking out my frustrations and working up a good sweat), and poured multiple passes of hot and cold water over it.

Much harder felt than the last batch, and should work better as a cover "paper," although it still retains that wonderful Corriedale softness. Tomorrow, I will needle-felt the title on the "front" and a small feather from a black-billed magpie (below) onto the back.

Black-billed Magpies

I'm going to change tactics on backing it from last time as well, following a hint posted on the Book Arts List to use iron-on interfacing instead of wheat paste to glue the paper to the felt.

My adventure of drop-spindle spinning for the masses at Stampede was fun, although it was cantankerously hot down at the grounds. I was also pleased that one of my entries in the craft competition won first place in its class, while the other was second, and lost to the entry that won the section.

Last Wednesday, I went to go see Dougie Maclean play a solo acoustic guitar show: I've been a fan of his since he played with Tannahill Weavers, and his album Indigenous frequently turns up on my iTunes playlist. Great concert, and a source of inspiration for an upcoming project that I am now starting to develop. Details soon....

I would like to update this blog more often and will try: it's hard to believe that I used to write everyday for a living and never found it to be an onerous chore.

Getting back to it, here as well as on Flickr and in my journal, has been increasingly pleasurable, so much so that I have been trying to find more outlets for it. I'm encouraged that The Globe and Mail ran my story of meeting Beverly Sills when I lived in New York.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

The Creative Process

The Calgary Stampede starts this Friday, and I volunteer down in Ag-tivity in the City, where I spin woolen yarn on my drop spindle and do what I jokingly refer to as "my stand-up comedy routine." It can be "interesting" weather down there -- a couple of years ago, we had snow, and this week, we're supposed to have temperatures in the mid-30s Celsius (around 95F) -- but I enjoy interacting with the visitors, and thinking about how art and craft fits into their lives as well as my own.

Part of that exploration usually involves the tools I use in producing my work. I bought a digital camera (Canon Powershot A540, no longer available) a little over a year ago and the transition period has been a long one: I was pretty good with my old Canon AE-1, then traded it in for a little Nikon point-and-shoot film number (Zoom 800AF) to use when I was writing my Masters thesis in 1999-2000. Now that I'm back to tinkering with apertures and shutter speeds, I'm having to think differently again.

Some of my friends have got me hooked on Flickr and I've been posting photos of my craft work there (as well as things in my life that aren't directly related to my "art"), and the simple act of taking the camera with me, shooting anything and everything, and then being able to delete the dross without pouring nasty chemicals into our environment is a liberating one.

I'm not sure it's changed how I approach what I do, but it definitely has given me other perspectives and, coincidentally, the more I shoot, the happier I am with the results. As an example, here's a picture of some beautiful (and, unfortunately, endangered) white pelicans.

Up, up, and away

Sunday, 24 June 2007

The Best-Laid Plans....

Sometimes you can sample once and the project works fine the first time.

There are times when you make a bunch of samples, and arrive at a solution.

And then there are the times when it just doesn't work, no matter how many samples you construct: making a felted cover for What I Felt falls into that category.

Attaching the letters by needle-felting worked pretty well, although I ended up having to redo one, and even gluing the felt to the tatami backing paper was moderately successful. Unfortunately, mating the paper-backed felt to the book boards was another matter. Not "bad" per se, since we all learn more from our mistakes than our successes, but not something I want to show pictures of either.

But I think I know how to make it work (harder felt is the trick to master), and will get it done in July.

Oh well, I'm allowed three entries for my $25, so The Zebra Book, Virginia Woolf Knits, and t(h)ree will go.

I took additional (and better, I think) photos of t(h)ree (below) to meet the CBBAG requirements, updated my CV, and filled out their form, so it's time to courier that package off to Toronto. Next up, delivery of my two items for the Calgary Stampede on Wednesday.

Saturday, 16 June 2007

Working Small

One of the most important things to do when constructing an artist's book, I've found, is to make one (or more) models and dummies.

I made a dummy of this structure, a sewn double accordion, with eight panels almost two years ago, when I first started binding, and it took me almost another year to find a concept to use it with. By that time, I had decided I wanted one that had six panels instead of eight.

When you use eight panels, you fold the piece of paper in half, then in half again, and then in half again. No muss, no fuss. Folding a paper into six isn't quite as easy -- after the first fold in half, you need to measure each sheet (or better yet, make a template) for the next two folds.

After doing that with the two, 2.5 inches by 11 inches pieces of paper, (one-quarter of the size of my "finished product"), I nested them and sewed the first, third, and fifth folds together with cotton thread, and popped out the opposing pieces. Add some salvaged cardboard for "covers" stuck on with a glue stick, and voilà! One sewn double accordion book, just under 4 inches wide and 2.5 inches high.

The Model

Monday, 11 June 2007

A Felting Adventure

One of the most time-intensive parts of any project, at least for me, is the amount of sampling and testing I do as part of the creative process, and my current book construction project What I Felt is no exception.

I've wanted to do this book for more than a year, since my mother died, but didn't quite know how when I started, and it's been fun tinkering about. The main stumbling block for me was trying to figure out how to create a light, flexible piece of felt to use as book cloth.

My previous experiments with wet felting were, to be kind, a disaster, because I wasn't using fine enough wool. That issue was solved when I bought a half-pound of mixed Corriedale rovings from a store I will no longer do any business with.

So I turned off any distractions and proceeded to organize myself Saturday morning. After putting down a plastic mesh layer, I carefully layered three colours (bright blue, silver-grey, and teal) and needle-felted them together (just the right side has been needle-felted in the picture below).

Colour Layer 3

With everything in place, I then wet-felted the entire sheet with boiling water and dishwashing soap, gently patting it to keep the integrity of the colour layering and shape. A good rinse with cold water and a peeling-off of the plastic mesh later, and the sheet was laid out to dry.

"Good" side drying

From start to finish, it took me less than an hour, which was much faster than I would have thought. I will needle-felt some additional roving onto the sheet to print out the title after the felt sheet dries thoroughly.

Once that is done, I will mix up a batch of wheat paste glue and attach a sheet of tatami paper to the back to make it easier to attach to the board covers, and weight it down until dry.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Scarves Now Available

Much of my time in the last three weeks has been taken up with developing a line of knitted scarves created from a mixture of handspun and commercial yarns.

Sizes range from 6 to 9 inches (15 to 20 cm) wide and 5 to 6 feet (.9 to 1 m) long and sport a non-fraying, knitted fringe, although no two are identical: a selection of both brown and blue colourways shown below are available.

The browns are made from a combination of wool, silk, alpaca, and mohair, while the blues are primarily mohair: I also have a summer line of multicoloured linen and white cotton (below). Please contact me for details regarding availability and cost.

Looking for something else? I am happy to accept commissions for specific fibre or colour combinations.

As well as the scarves, I am also working on some matching knitted purses, which will be featured at Arts on Atlantic's Fibre Show, opening on July 21.

June will see me working hard to complete yet another fibre/book, tentatively titled What I Felt, in time, I hope, to enter it in the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artist's The Art of the Book '08, as well as several other projects.

Summer will also be busy: as well as the Arts on Atlantic show, I will be entering the Calgary Stampede (July 6 to 15), and the 100th anniversary of the Priddis and Millarville Fair (August 18), as well as organizing a team in their Sheep-to-Shawl competition.

I have also started preliminary sampling of yarns and techniques to create some larger-scale handspun/knitted/woven sculptural pieces, and look forward to working on them in the fall.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

A Complex Journey

Some projects take longer than others: t(h)ree (below: 5" w x 13.25" h x 1" d) started life as a quote by Arthur Schopenhauer that I found last summer, and then developed a life of its own.

There are three nested square flexagons, inkjet-printed on Canson Mi-Tientes paper and attached with PVA glue, and each sits in an envelope made from paste paper I created in a class with Susan Kristoferson. An enclosure/sculpture of knitted mohair, alpaca, and wool brings them all together.

[edited Sunday, September 9, 2007]

I have also been working to develop a line of knitted scarves and hope to have some pictures of them up soon.

Sunday, 8 April 2007

A Whirlwind Month

March was just a blur: the show at Arts on Atlantic went very well, culminating with the Edible Book Festival on April 1, to which I contributed a Japanese version of Jabberwocky made with extra-firm tofu and nori (below).

The Pacific Festival of the Book in Victoria was a mad rush: from beginning to end, it was a fabulous experience. I was so glad that the artist book exhibit was well received: in fact, that it will be extended to two months for next year. I have also been invited back to participate in the Festival and am looking forward to the opportunity.

For me, the highlights were meeting Alesha Davies Fowlie and buying a monoprinting kit from her, along with some of the amazing artists who belong to CBBAG's Vancouver Island chapter, as well as being able to take seminars from Connie Frey and Rob Hicks from the Victoria School of Writing.

My adventures to Edmonton and Saskatoon the following week (over Juno weekend) were also wonderful: we stayed in a teriffic bed and breakfast that also hosted Denis Gougeon, the winner of Classical Music Composition.

I also visited a number of terrific galleries, including the
Alberta Craft Council, in Edmonton, and Darrell Bell, Rouge, the Saskatchewan Craft Council, and Art Placement's amazing selection of papers and art supplies, in Saskatoon.

But I've had my week off to recover, and it's back to creating: I have some experiments to conduct with my monoprinting kit, to play with the papers I bought in Saskatoon, to think about what I want to make for the April artist trading card night, and to decide which craft competitions I'm interested in entering.

There are a number of fibre projects I have on the go as well: another pair of socks, plying the singles I've spun from our guild's Dye Day last summer, and projects I'm developing that use the product from my hand-cranked I-cord machine.

Details about upcoming exhibitions and shows will be posted as they become available.

Saturday, 3 March 2007

Current Exhibitions

My work is now on display at Arts on Atlantic in Calgary, where fingers is available for purchase. Printed in a limited edition of six (size: 3.5" high, 13" long, 5.25" wide), this is a variation of a hidden book structure, and incorporates photographs taken last fall in Kananaskis and Banff. This exhibit runs through March 25.

On view in The Art of the Book through March 31 at the Victoria Arts Connection are two other books. Both The Zebra Book (size: 2.5" wide, 2.75" high, .5" deep)

and Virginia Woolf Knits (size: 5" high, 5.25" wide, .75" deep) incorporate my long-standing work in fibre arts with words and non-traditional book structures to explore new ways of seeing our world.

If you are in Victoria, please come and say "hi" when I am out during the Pacific Festival of the Book, March 23 to 25.

Books for Sale

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