Monday, 29 December 2014

Another Auld Lang Syne

Although I have a family connection to Robert Burns (one of my ancestors published his first collection of poems), this is a favourite too. As far as I can determine, this is one of the last video performances of Dan Fogelberg doing his, not long before he died.

Yet another brilliant songwriter gone too soon.

O Christmas Tree

As mentioned in the previous post, I put up our tree this year: it was hard but not impossible. I remembered where and when we bought it, and why, and all those other silly details that you never think you're going to recall.

I know what I listened to the last time I was putting it up, how we celebrated our anniversary, and what we planned for the spring that never happened. I've cried looking at it, thinking about all of those things as well.

But I'm glad I put it up: it was time.

One of many

The best, but also hardest, part was pulling out the ornaments: I still have two glass balls that my parents received as a wedding present, and there are several projects I made as a child. I always wrap them carefully and was glad to see they survived moving and handling more than usual over the last few years.

New owl on the block

That being said, this holiday season was also time to make some new traditions: this little fellow and his five friends came as Boxing Day gift from a friend. It spins around madly when you fire up a tealight at the base, and it's both cute and kitschy at the same time. I like it. A lot.

Looking ahead

There's another light at the end of my tunnel as well, and a glass that is half-full. I'm as infinitely grateful for the new friends I've made this year as much as the old ones I've been able to let go from my past: perhaps the most important change that has happened this year has been the ability to not only make that choice, but to also be happy in doing so.

For the first time since, there is so much to look forward to in my life.

(And so I finish off my 200th blog post: it will be eight years in March since I began this adventure. I'm not sure I ever thought I'd still be doing this, or have written this many, or have had anything to say: there are people who probably think I haven't said anything useful at all either, but I digress.)

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Moving On

My shooting box - outside

In the last few years, December has become one of those exceptionally hectic months for me, and this year is no exception.

Among other things, it's the time of year for parties, and as much as I enjoy my friends and good food, I quickly get "partied-out" and as last night was the last of the giant en masse gatherings, I'm grateful for the return of peace and quiet in my life.

It's also a time of deadlines for various art-related things (gallery submissions and residencies especially) and with doing more three-dimensional work, I have been in need of a special photography set-up to let me document the new works and send them off with the proposals.

My shooting box - inside

The solution was to build a shooting box (or studio box, as they are sometimes called): they can be expensive if you buy one at a high-end camera shop, but thanks to Jeff Rodier, whose talk I attended a few weeks ago as part of the Visual Arts Alberta-CARFAC professional development series, I discovered it isn't that difficult to build one of my own, which I finished the other day.

I started with a good solid box -- this one has double-walled corrugated cardboard -- cut the openings (they aren't perfectly square, but that's OK!), and reinforced the back, the top of the side openings, and the front side edges with some interior struts that came with the box. After that, I cut up a sheet of Plaskolite I salvaged from the garbage at work (it had corners knocked off and couldn't be sold), securing them over the windows to diffuse the light.

Final touch was to add the sheet of grey paper on the inside, curved to produce a seamless background.

The Future Through The Lens of The Past

Given I only hastily cobbled up the lighting for it -- a combination of natural daylight on the right, fluorescent (cool white) and warm incandescents on the top, and a warm white LED on the left, and tinkered a bit with the white balance on my camera, I'm very pleased with how the pictures turned out.

Neruda's Nest

The other thing December has become known for in my life lately has been as a time to move: it's much less stressful this year, as I'm not having to pack up everything, for a change, and instead of having Christmas somewhere unfamiliar, I'll be in a kitchen I know like the back of my hand, cooking a whole turkey, and having a day of quietude.

I can hardly wait.

Friday, 28 November 2014

All Quiet on the Public Front

A Grand Dam in Paris

Although not so much behind-the-scenes, as you will soon discover….

Not surprisingly, I'm still playing catch-up in a big way: the pictures in this post date before the last one was published, and I've only recently had the chance to sit down, look at/post pictures to Flickr, and reflect on what's happened in the last five weeks or so.

As I mentioned here, one of the few fun things I got to do when I was in southern Ontario was to take in some art shows: one of them was at Michael Gibson Gallery, a lovely, small private gallery in downtown London.

The Mill Pond #2

Back in late September, they announced that there would be a small Greg Curnoe show (the gallery handles sales for the estate), subscribers to their email list were asked if they wanted to own a book from Greg's library. The catch was that you had to tell a Greg Curnoe story in return, with a list of books and the stories being provided to the Art Gallery of Ontario for their Curnoe archive.

Not knowing when I was going to be able to pick mine up, I sent off a story, and was saddened when barely a month later, I was able to stop by to get my book. I'm now the proud owner of The Brave Never Write Poetry by Jones, as Daniel Jones was writing under at the time.

Like all the books in Greg's library, the inside flyleaf has "G. Curnoe" and the date the volume was purchased (Feb 1/86, in mine): it's a slim (less than 100 pages) volume of gritty prose poetry, with several pages of the most interesting haiku I've ever read.

The Mill Pond #3

I've written a few haiku in my day -- won an Alberta Views contest with one a couple of years ago, in fact -- and wrote another one this week to accompany a short time-lapse video I shot 18 months ago that will be appearing in an upcoming show in Copenhagen, Denmark.

But mine are nothing like Jones.

It's more than passing strange to read a book with a gritty feel, knowing that the author, who was four years younger than me, committed suicide in 1994, especially after picking it up the day before my mother-in-law's funeral, and I've been thinking a lot about it a lot since I've returned, which is one reason things have been quiet here on the blog.

I think my next challenge is to find a copy of his only novel.

Sumac #3

The other reason is that I've spent what free time I've had sorting through the photographs I took in my fifty-seventh year, the first full year between birthdays after I lost my wee mannie: I spent much of it on the road, trying to run, unsuccessfully, away from the pain. With being homeless, about the only art I was able to create was with my camera, and I shot close to 3500 photographs (I think, but I may have lost count).

The original plan was to find my favourite 57, and collect them in a little book for friends and family who asked what are you going to do with all those pictures?, although I still have the last four months to go, when I was spending a lot of time in Ontario and Quebec. The initial pass may be done by the end of Sunday, which would mean I successfully completed my NaNoWriMo challenge, but I'm already at more than 80, so there will be a fair bit of winnowing-down to do.

(But the cover's done, I've got an ISBN from Library and Archives Canada, and what started as vanity project has taken on a bit of a life of its own. If you're interested in getting one, let me know. I may also put it out as an ebook with added features, such as more panoramic pictures, and some audio and video elements.)

Sunday dinner

And then there's been a long string of job applications, show proposals, new-work creation, lightbox-building to let me document the new sculptural works, and other miscellanea to fill my days before I start packing to head back to my winter house-sit: perhaps most importantly, I will put up my Christmas tree this year, for the first time since I've been back on my own, which I am looking forward to.


Monday, 10 November 2014

Roller Coaster


The last three weeks have been crazy. I got a phone call wanting to set up a job interview, followed not five minutes later by reading emails from my brother- and sister-in-law to let me know that my mother-in-law had died. sigh. That's her above, at the family reunion this past June.

Shadows and light

So off I set to Ontario for the funeral, and waited to hear the results of the interview: as I suspected, I was not the candidate they wanted, which, at some level, was somewhat of a relief. It was only a six-month contract, and while it would have paid a tidy sum, I'd be back job-hunting soon. Perhaps it's just age taking over, but I'm less and less enamoured with doing that.


Emotionally, it's been a draining stretch, and I haven't spent enough quality time making art through it, although I have, at least, been seeing a lot, including the opportunity to go to fibreworks 2014 (the Canadian fibre biennale held in Cambridge, ON) on the way to the airport to return to Calgary from the funeral. I had submitted a piece and wasn't selected, so I was curious to see what 23 works (out of a total of 161 entered) had made the cut. There were a couple of really interesting pieces, but an awful lot of it didn't get me terribly excited. It's a great venue though, and I'll likely put something in next time.

Foliage #4

There were also a couple of interesting displays up at the University of Waterloo's School of Architecture, barely a ten-minute walk from fibreworks that I also enjoyed, and with my little brother-in-law as my chauffeur, we had a lovely drive through the countryside.

Foliage #1

(The scenery pictures aren't of Ontario though: I took them the weekend before I headed east. I needed to blow some fresh air through my brain, and ended up going for a nice walk on Nose Hill, a large natural reserve in north-west Calgary. Hadn't been for awhile, and just needed to see the mountains, the vegetation turning colour, and to remind myself that I don't get out often enough, since I started working part-time.)

Monday, 6 October 2014

Lost. Found.

Installation view

So here's Neruda's Nest installed at the Galt Museum and Archives in Lethbridge, AB the last weekend of September, as part of Alberta Arts Days. I must admit, as I mentioned in my previous post, that I was leery about how the piece turned out as I assembled it rather last-minute when they sent me the email indicated they wanted it.

From above

But seeing it in the vitrine, surrounded by other lovely works of art, I discovered that it's actually something I'm growing to love, and in talking to the curator of the show, I discovered that she had figured out, from my very brief description and barebones photograph, that it was worth fostering.

It's not the first time, and I'm sure it won't be the last, that others see the potential in my art before I do. Part of my rehabilitation as both a soi-disant sane human being (although I'm not sure I was one before I became alone again), as well as an artist, has been trying to get to that sweet spot sooner rather than later. It's improving, although perhaps not as quickly as I'd like.

Besides seeing my work, and meeting many of the other artists in the show at the closing reception on Sunday afternoon, I had the opportunity to check out the local art and food scene. Had some great meals, saw terrific art (including another fibre half-labyrinth built on the same pattern as mine, but delineated with woven panels hung from the ceiling) at CASA, SAAG, and Trianon Gallery, which is part of, and sponsored by, a local architectural firm: how cool is that?

Lethbridge: I'll be back.

The Road Home #1

It was a dull, off-and-on rainy day when I headed down on Greyhound, with not much to look at from a scenery/landscape perspective, but coming back in a car with Calgary friends who had driven down to see family, the views were much improved, and it didn't take much to persuade the driver to stop just outside of Stavely for both a leg-stretch and chance to photograph the sunset and grain elevator.

The Road Home #2

After such a great weekend away, I was glad to be heading home, but so grateful to have had good friends to stay with, the opportunity to see and do new things, and to meet some terrific artists doing exciting work.

For the first time in a very long while, I had an extended stretch of calm and peace in my life, and some good feelings about what the future may bring.

The Road Home #3

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Restaging, remembering, reflecting

Reclamation project

As much as I'm pleased to be making new work, it was restaging The Simplicity of Ritual, which was the last proposal my sweetie helped me write, and was performed/created right after I returned to Calgary from scattering his ashes, that has been incredibly cathartic. The yarn shown above was frogged ("ripped out" for you non-knitters) from a sweater I knit in my zaftig days back in the late 1970s. When I started losing weight, it became the top layer when I would go skiing or hiking in the cooler seasons, and then became part of my sweetie's out-in-the-bush wardrobe.

We had already decided that it would become part of Ritual before he died, and the process of turning it back into workable yarn was something that was both difficult and necessary. Appropriately, it both started and finished the knitting.

For the third edition of the Equinox Vigil at Union Cemetery here in Calgary, I was accepted as one of the artists, with the specific purpose of restaging it and engaging in more "public participation" than I had in the original.

Astute viewers of the video might notice a dearth of visitors but plenty of small hysterical moments on behalf of the artist, and I had a sinking feeling that the same conditions would repeat themselves at Equinox. I was grateful that neither did.

Photo by Simone Lee

Here I am, tinkering with the layout of the knitting against the grid, in the afternoon: trying to attach a yarn grid onto a macadam/gravel road with masking tape is a challenge! And then the breeze got up, so I found a rock to put on the most outside ring to hold it down until we started to get the battery-operated tea lights down. As things turned out, the wind dropped shortly thereafter….


All ready for the big moment of me going down to the entrance for the opening ceremony, after the grid was removed, the knitting taped down, and the grid/yarn gently slipped out from underneath.

Photo by Derek Mah

I had bought 72 tea lights, and figured that would be far too many. Was so surprised and grateful that despite a couple of non-functioning ones, we ran out quickly, and I had to resort to picking up every third one to recycle them twice (the reason why they appear to be in groups of two in the photograph above), and even after that, we had another twenty or so more people walk it without placing a light at all. With more than 400 attendees, my calculation is that one-third of them came to visit me tucked in the back at the top.

Just an amazing experience.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Re-Creating, Part Two

the future through the lens of the past

So, one of the shows (of the three openings in eight days) of all this fall was at the Galt Museum and Archives in Lethbridge, AB, which closed last Sunday. I participated last year, entering Wild at Heart - A Shrine for Salmon, but in my submission this year, entered two pieces. The first one, which was complete when I sent off the application, is above: I call it the future through the lens of the past, but as one of the first viewers of it said "you could easily call it 'the past through the lens of the future' too."

I like it a lot. It riffs, and expands, on two pieces I've done in the past: "objects of crystalline desire" (the winter section of my seasonal solo photography show at Fish Creek Environmental Learning Centre, in spring 2011), which used pieces of shattered windshield glass surrounded by handspun/knitted edges, and my contribution to Emily Martin's Pantone Postcard Project, which, among other places, went to the Venice Biennale last year.

There's something nicely incremental on my past work about it.

Which is very unlike the second piece I slotted in at the last minute.

Neruda's Nest

This was the photograph I took just before I boxed it out to ship. The one I sent early in September was pretty rough (just the base, the stick, and the nest precariously balanced on some small piece of marble), and was not much further along when I got an email from the curator at the Galt wanting the finished piece a week later. That led to a lot of crazy thoughts about what I needed to do to complete it, and when I glued up the last piece four days later, then boxed and handed it over to a friend to drive down to Lethbridge, I had serious qualms about what it was, and what I could possibly say about it.

It's titled Neruda's Nest, which refers to one of the lines in Pablo Neruda's "The Book of Questions: which yellow bird fills its nest with lemons? I spun the yarn last summer to knit the lemon, had the bird's next since the spring before that (shortly after finding the quote), and the stick comes from a tree we trimmed in our backyard the summer of 2010. The travertine tile comes from work, where I found it a month or two ago.

Installation pictures will be in the next blog entry.

Before the snow flies

Meanwhile, in the rest of my life, we had a freak snowstorm three weeks ago -- I took this picture the day before. I love the colours of the trees in fall, and it was a soft evening when I took this picture.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Re-Creating, Part One

Tunnel Book Class #1

I've taken two other "hands-on" classes at the Esker Foundation: one that let participants build with corrugated cardboard, and the other that built a tunnel book.

Some of the pieces in the cardboard workshop, where we were encouraged to build our fantasies, were amazing construction projects: rocket ships, public art models, you-name-it. Mine was, well, pretty boring, in comparison: I built a live-work studio, with the studio end having a full skylight for a roof.

These days, that's my idea of a fantasy.

Tunnel Book Class #2

But I had great fun at the tunnel book class. Although we were encouraged to bring our own source material, I decided that I wanted to see what we would be able to draw from that was provided, and was happy to discover a topographical map of Quebec, a postcard with Greek statues from the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, an old National Geographic magazine with a map of The Bahamas, as well as a vintage ink sketch of a flamingo.

With supplies in hand, I set to work, along with everyone else. There were times when we were working that you could have heard a pin drop and the photo above shows the furrowed brows of everyone in near-silence over the worktables.

Tunnel Book Class #3

I rather like the result, although like most of the work I've created lately, I'm not always sure where my ideas come from. That being said, I have been noticing recurrent themes (that's supposed to be a flamingo on a beach in one of the watercolours I posted up in my previous post, for example), so I obviously have fond memories of the time I spent on Great Inagua.

Reference Set

I've also finally gotten around to replacing the set of watercolour pencils I left in Nassau nearly three years ago, and decided that creating a page where I showed an example of the colours I had bought, both wet and dry, would be useful in returning to using them as a medium again.

One of my first artist books, The Zebra Book, shown here, used them: I like watercolour pencils for their portability, and, well, because they're fun too!

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Four-Letter Words

Watercolour Workshop #1

Somewhat belatedly, I'm writing about returning to serious creative work, as well as my six-month mental-health update. I've been thinking a lot about both since the last blog entry, and doing a great deal more, in a structured, formal sense, about the former.

That process has pushed some of the public commentary (although not my journal-writing) with a bit more thoughtful retrospection about both of them aside.

Watercolour Workshop #2

There are a lot of four-letter words I could use to describe my life in the last 3.5 years, but until recently, one of them would not have been care.

Most of the time, I didn't, and on the rare occasions when I did (involving, more often than not, walking away from people who did not treat me with "care" either), I would surprise myself by doing so, as the reaction was much more of a subconscious one than a conscious one.

Here's Merriam-Webster's definition of care: I've had a lot of 1 and 2, and some 5, but not much else.

Watercolour Workshop #3

Well, that's the big change: I now consciously care: it shows at work, and more importantly, it's showing up in the art I'm now pumping out(comparatively speaking: three titled pieces with "2014" after their titles is huge, for me).

Part of finding my way back to art, as I mentioned here, was by putting myself "out there" to do art again, beginning with a watercolour class through the Esker Foundation with artist Brenda Draney last November. I wasn't ready then to share what I produced that day because I wasn't sure where the work came from.

I'm still not, but I've been producing enough new things that seem to be drawing on common themes, that perhaps it's time to begin to expose them to the light of day.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Forward. Fast.

Despite my intention to blog more often -- and there's certainly much that's been happening in my life, almost all of it pretty darned good, to write about -- I'm just not finding the time to do so.

Life continues to settle into a routine of eat, sleep, work, create art that is reasonably comfortable and enjoyable. The big addition is the create art part of that equation: I'm even building two pieces for a show next month so the curator can take her pick of which one she would like.

In one of those "isn't it weird how things come together in threes?" sorts of moments, I have two scheduled openings within three days (one here in Calgary, one in Toronto), which is a pleasant development, and a third (the one I'm building the two new works for) happens the following week.


As usual, I did my fibre thing down at the Calgary Stampede again this year: our little corner of tradition still remains tucked into Agriculture, although it grows smaller and less cohesive every year. The biggest change I noticed in the 2014 edition is that instead of our various elements being all together, we were separated and plugged into divergent spaces all over: if "divide and conquer" is the strategy for eliminating us, however, it didn't appear to be working on our visitors.

But for the volunteers, especially those who organize our section, you could tell that the running-around was taking its toll. I keep expecting that one of these years, the phone call to schedule me is going to be the one to say that we're no longer wanted.

Back in the barns #3

When (not if, sadly: it is inevitable) that eventually does happen, apart from sharing my spinning and knitting, I'll miss going back into the barns, where I love to take my camera every year, capturing candid moments. This year, I rehabilitated my small old point-and-shoot, which lets me be much more subtle about taking shots. Most of them turned out poorly, as it takes awhile for me to adjust from my big camera back down, but I did get a few, like the one above, that I'm rather pleased with.


Although we had one bad storm roll through, this was one of the nicest Stampedes we've had for a number of years weatherwise: not too hot, not too cold, not too windy, not very wet at all, but there has been some pretty impressive and damaging storms around the city so far this summer.

The days have also brought a regular visitor (see below) to the backyard: he's rather tame, and on the small side for a varying hare.

I'm assuming it's a "him," since I'm no expert in determining the gender of varying hares, but have picked the gender-neutral name of Wascal E. Wabbit just to be on the safe side.

Wascal at west

And because it's been summer, I've also been off to local music festivals (both folk and blues) and listening to BBC Radio 2 when I get a quiet studio day at home: pleased that this has taken off since I first heard it, as it's a catchy tune.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014


Between working, unpacking, and creating new art, blog updates have been few, though not for the lack of material to write about. I finally finished off the time-lapse video of The Simplicity of Ritual that I completed three years ago, right after setting down this solo road. It's hard, in some ways, to watch it: there are several frames where I'm being quite hysterical, and I can't look at them without having the same emotions I felt when the pictures were taken.


So it's all the more amazing to me the changes that have taken place lately: this blog post, for example, was started a few weeks ago, when I bought a few herb plants, which were the most obvious manifestation of the fact that I have, at long last, began to set down roots again.

Cracklin' Rosie

When I wrote *Deracination* back on Wednesday, December 7, 2011, I wasn't sure I was ever going to want, or be able, to do that again, but here I am.

Chocolate mint

Ironically, I wanted to finish this post off ten days ago, when I was in southern Ontario for a quick turn-around trip to the in-law family reunion. Most of them hadn't seen me in two years, and while I lost emotional control more in those four days than I have in the last six months, I'm very glad I went.

That they were also happy to see me was obvious by the fact that I was the answer to one of the "how well do you know the family" trivia questions. That alone made it all worthwhile.

Mill Pond Trail #4

Time to go back into the studio, and resume construction on the new project.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Stylish Steel-eh-Toes

I ended up having this song as an earworm the day after I got hired (part-time, at a well-known home improvement store) as I had to purchase a pair of proper boots to wear for work. Found the absolute lightest-weight pair possible bearing the necessary CSA approval marking -- a green triangle, for those who care -- required.

Which explains why I've been pretty much missing in action here on the blog: between learning the job, watching the Stanley Cup playoffs (ice hockey, for those of you who don't know that), moving house yet again, fitting in another ten exciting days dog-sitting out in the country, plus planning an exciting adventure east next month.

At the pond #1

The days out in the country were particularly welcome, although I had thought they would be filled with lots of knitting, reading, and other creativity, they ended up being occupied with far less bucolic things (snow, trip to the vet, moving), but that's how it goes, I guess.

But I was glad to have the camera with me, especially when I was able, on my last full day there, to head up to one of my favourite places for a quiet walk in the rapidly greening forest.

On the prairie #2

As difficult as this past winter has been weatherwise, spring has eventually shown up, although many plants are well behind where they should be: crocus, for example are a flower of March or April, not mid-May.

Foray into bokeh

And with another record snow-pack up in the mountains, many people are casting a wary eye to the sky every time rain threatens: I was talking yesterday to a friend who lives in our old neighbourhood who finally moved back into her house in mid-January. I'm glad that won't be a problem in my life this year where I'm staying.

Rushing waters #4

Thursday, 24 April 2014

The Rites of Spring

Mmmmm, maple syrup!

A favourite I used to participate in when I lived in suburban Washington, DC, was here in Cunningham Falls State Park: it's one of the few things I miss about living down there.

Bipolar weather, still

Meanwhile, our psychotic weather, like most of North America, continues: I was sitting outside in the sun this morning, combing dyed mohair locks for a spinning demo, wearing a sun hat for the first time this year, and almost got warm enough to want to shed my sweatshirt.

Twin-row comb

Of course, for the demo, it's supposed to snow. Again. Good thing it's not going to be outside....

There's some good karma in processing fibre outside in the spring: the process always results in cleaner fibre to spin because bits of trapped vegetation or dirt can easily fall out when you open up the locks.

Because it's being done outside, I don't worry much about cleaning up the plant stuff or the dirt, and any matted bits of fiber I remove can either be left for the birds to construct nests, or collected and used to line any potted plants that will need transplanting later on.

May 2013 Pilgrimage #8

And like so many other things that have been happening this spring, this too is a sign of returning normalcy in my life: it's been a long time since I've processed any fibre at all. Perhaps next month I might actually work on another few bags in my stash to feed my growing need to spin more yarns.

The photo above was taken up at Big Hill Springs Provincial Park not quite a year ago: when I was up there last Sunday, there was only brown grass and dirt in the exposed areas, and the trail was either muddy or snow-covered.

C'mon, Spring, I know you can do better than you have so far....

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