Wednesday, December 28, 2016

More Collage Papers

Sometimes if I'm in a bit of slump, I find it helpful to get into my studio and do something that's not too demanding. Making collage papers is an ideal project for those times when I'm procrastinating or "stuck". It's also a good way to use up the paint left on your palette.

A few months ago I got my hands on "Collage with Color", a book by Jane Davies, published in 2005 and now out of print, but still available on Amazon. Some of the techniques suggested include
  • sponging
  • palette knife application
  • spattering
  • stenciling
  • stamping
  • brushstrokes
  • spritzing and blotting
  • drip transfer
  • sgraffito
  • gesso resist
  • combing
  • masking
  • crayon resist and more!
I began by using paper from a sketchbook pad, though many of these techniques would also work on cloth. I also found an old jar of "clear gesso". A bit like modelling paste, this can be applied to the paper with a brush or a credit card, and then textures can be created by scratching, combing, or stamping into the wet product. Once dry, opaque and transparent pigments can be applied in a variety of ways to add depth and interest.

Here are a few of the collage papers I recently made:

clear gesso applied with brush in basketweave pattern;
painted yellow and scraped; orange paint circles stamped on

"sgraffito" technique with a comb dragged through clear gesso 
to create horizontal and vertical curves;
yellow, then orange, paint applied and scraped

Lego-type board pressed into wet gesso randomly, then dried;
paint applied with sponge.

comb dragged through wet gesso in basketweave pattern;
paint applied then scraped off

No gesso used here.
The black paint was applied by stamping with the eraser end of a pencil.
The streaking of transparent paint (thinned with glazing medium)
over opaque paint makes an interesting surface.

stamp pressed into wet gesso;
finished with at least three colours of paint

as above;
the horizontal and vertical bands are made by
scraping the surface with a credit card

This one began when used as a blotter to lift paint from another paper.

And this one began when a stencil loaded with paint was pressed
onto its surface. More stamping followed.

Transparency-on-transparency works its magic.

Sometimes a little "mess-therapy" is just the diversion we need to get back into the studio. And it's always great to have a supply of interesting collage papers on hand for future projects.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Happy Christmas!

John Henry Twachtman, (1853 - 1902), Winter, oil on canvasundated,
from The Phillips Collection, Washington DC

Best wishes of the season to everyone.

May the year to come bring peace, love and joy to us all.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

More in the Touchstone series

Encouraged by the reception for the first 15 in my Touchstone series, I have made four more.

There is something addictive about making these little 10 x 10's, mounted on birch cradleboard. The varying density of the white fog background gives a little mystery to the compositions, and the various shapes, some collaged, some painted, relate to each other with a precarious balance.

Stability/instability, bright/dull, solid/ephemeral/patterned, heavy/light, distinct/indefinite: all come into play in these pieces.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Christmas cards 2016

Once again my thoughts have turned to making something special for Christmas. Each year, I try something a little different, and many of the friends and family on my Christmas card list tell me that they collect the cards, year after year. This time I've decided to share some of the process of making my fabric postcards.

I get pleasure from using up what I have on hand. The variety of materials I have stored away in my studio always surprises me.

I began with a photo I took of a stone angel in a cemetery, possibly at Highgate, just outside London. I cropped the image and used software to transform it to a sepia monotone.

In a drawer I found some sheets of sheer organza, backed with paper, made especially for the printing of photos with an ink-jet printer.

Above, you can see how each sheet of organza yielded six images. On the right is a transparent organza photo, peeled off the backing, with a narrow margin on all sides.

I used a pencil to draw the outlines of the multiple postcards, measuring 6" x 4", onto the cotton print. I left a little space between the rectangles.  Rummaging in my printing supplies, I discovered a set of silicone printing letters, complete with a transparent acrylic block, the perfect size for the four letters in "noel".  Using an ink pad and a plastic-covered, cushioned printing surface, I carefully printed the word vertically along the right-hand side of each rectangle.

At this point, the length of cotton was "batted up" with a thin polyester batting, and the organza photos were stitched into place, by machine, through both layers.

When I ran out of the cotton print, I reached for a length of hand-dyed, caramel-coloured cotton. The individual cards were then cut out. A stiff, fusible interfacing (Timtex?) was cut into 6" x 4" rectangles, as was some heavy-weight watercolour paper. The final "sandwich" was layered: cotton (with the organza appliqué), stitched to thin polyester batting, then the fusible interfacing, and finally the watercolour paper, all cut to 6" x 4". Because the interfacing was fusible on both sides, a warm iron applied to the sandwich secured all the layers together.

The edges of each card were finished off with a blanket stitch on my trusty Bernina. I used a "dijon"-coloured calligraphic marker to address the cards and write a little message to each recipient.

With a stamp affixed to the paper side, these Christmas postcards bravely ride "bareback" through the postal system. I like to think that they bring a smile to everyone they meet on their journey.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

In The Gallery with Cineplex

John Henry Twachtman (1853-1902), Snow, ca. 1895-96, oil on canvas, 30 x 30 in.
(part of the exhibition The Artist's Garden: American Impressionism)

Once again this year, the Cineplex chain of Canadian movie theatres offers their "In the Gallery" series of films about art. The chosen films for 2017 are:
  • The Curious World of Hieronymus Bosch, December 14 and January 8
  • Botticelli - Inferno, January 18 and 29
  • I, Claude Monet - Exhibition on Screen, February 22 and 26
  • Revolution - New Art for a New World, March 8 and April 2
  • The Artist's Garden: American Impressionism - Exhibition on Screen, March 22 and 26
  • Michelangelo: Love and Death - Exhibition on Screen, June 14 and 18
For more information, please visit their website.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Profiled! in Art Quilting Studio magazine

Getting my name on the cover of a magazine? Pretty special! I am thrilled to have been profiled in the American magazine, Art Quilting Studio, Winter 2017 edition. The eight-page spread includes 8 photos of my work, and the quality of the reproduction is spot-on.

The article itself is beautifully written by Ricë Freeman-Zachery. I have scanned the article, below, so you can see for yourself what all the fuss is about. Just keep scrolling down until you come to the enlarged text.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Mystical Landscapes @ the AGO

Vincent Van Gogh, The Starry Night over the Rhone at Arles, 1888

How many of us have been so struck by the profound beauty of nature that we might describe it as a spiritual experience? Certainly, many artists have been inspired by "the sublime" and have attempted to share their sense of awe and wonder.

Eugene Jansson, Dawn Over Riddarfjarden, 1899

Until January 29, 2017, the Art Gallery of Ontario hosts Mystical Landscapes: Masterpieces from Monet, Van Gogh & more. The show was organized in collaboration with the musée d'Orsay in Paris, and features 90 extraordinary paintings from the period 1880 - 1930. The 37 painters from 14 countries included in this exhibition reacted to the rampant materialism and rapid urbanization of their age, and to the horrors of war, by seeking the divine in a sunrise, a birch forest, or a starry sky.

Edvard Munch, The Sun, 1910-1913

I had the good fortune to visit the show last month, and was pleased to be introduced to several painters whose work was a revelation to me, including Sweden's Eugene Jansson and France's Henri Le Sidaner. Canadians Emily CarrLawren Harris and Tom Thomson are also included.

The CBC radio program Tapestry has produced a 54-minute podcast that includes an interview with the co-curator of Mystical Landscapes, Katharine Lochnan, who explains how our view of art from this period has been secularized. Of the show, she says, "It's a wonderful way of bringing theology together with art history. And looking at art in a way that gives these artists back their spiritual voices."

Émile Bernard, Madeleine in the Bois d'Amour, 1888

To quote from the website of the musée d'Orsay:
"Connecting with an order beyond physical appearances, going deeper than material realities to come closer to the mysteries of existence, experimenting with losing oneself in perfect unity with the cosmos: these quests are all characteristic of mysticism, the spiritual phenomenon that exists alongside all religions, in all continents. Why not, then, acknowledge its presence in Western Symbolist painting, which, at the close of the 19th century, precisely sought to elevate art to the medium of the ineffable, and the artist to the rank of initiate?"
The exhibition runs at the musée d'Orsay March 14 - June 25, 2017.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Pavilion for Peace at the MMFA

Recently I toured the new, fifth pavilion of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The six levels of the Pavilion for Peace add 45,000 square feet of floor space; the MMFA now rivals Ottawa's National Gallery in size.

The theme of the new space is peace and well-being. Several impressive sculptural works were commissioned from regional artists to enhance the interior decor. In Quebec, all public buildings must set aside 1% of their construction budgets for art, and ironically this applies to art museums as well.

The new pavilion is designed to offer exciting views of the city on its outer edges, while protecting the collection in the inner core of the building. White oak, grey granite, aluminum and concrete feature prominently in the interior design, which includes impressive gathering places and facilities to extend the educational mission of the museum. Several of the gallery walls are especially finished to express the theme of the room's contents: regal, stencilled motifs to enhance the Napoleonica collection, ornate but subtle latticework to showcase the Orientalism display, and a forest-like light effect, complete with birdsong, to complement the pastoral masterpieces.

The Pavilion for Peace was supported by Michal and Renata Hornstein who, in 2012, generously donated 75 works from their collection of Old Masters, valued at over $75 million, and contributed to the building fund. The Hornsteins, both Holocaust survivors, were actively involved in the planning of the new wing but sadly did not live to see the opening.

In late January the exhibition "Chagall: Colour and Music" will open, giving us yet another reason to visit our new MMFA.

And in the coming months, as part of Montreal's 375th anniversary celebration, Bishop Street will become a pedestrian plaza, linking Concordia University to the Museum. The Museum's outdoor sculpture garden will expand from Avenue du Musée to Bishop Street, cementing the ongoing relationship between the two institutions.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Colleen Heslin @ the McMichael Collection

Trial by Fire

The highlight of my recent visit to the Toronto area was seeing Needles and Pins at the McMichael Collection. I found it very exciting to view the work of Colleen Heslin, winner of the 15th annual RBC Canadian Painting Competition, in this temple of Canadian art, now celebrating its 50th anniversary. I am always thrilled to see work in fibre exhibited in a top-ranking art museum, and intrigued by an artist who explores the boundary between painting and fibre art.


Adjacent to the two galleries filled with Heslin's large-scale works is an exhibition of Canadian painter Jack Bush. It is no coincidence that these two artists were paired, as Heslin has clearly been influenced by the abstract imagery of Bush's colour field painting.

Well of Exaggeration

Heslin hand-dyes linen with either fabric dye or ink, achieving a richly-modulated depth of colour. Her cut-out shapes are stitched together and mounted on stretcher bars.

Ice Point

In the words of curator Naomi Potter,
"Colleen Heslin’s paintings resonate with the tension of material and gestural complexity. The artist hand-dyes cotton and linen in small batches, and hangs them to dry, which develops residual surface textures. The stained fabric is then cut and pieced together – similar to quilt-making construction. Colour is in constant dialogue; the pure simplicity of isolated colour is central to every painting. Considering formal abstraction and craft-based methods of mark making, Heslin’s work thoroughly explores colour, shape, and texture, while acknowledging the histories of photography and textiles, and finding connections with the Colour Field painters of the 1960s and 1970s. Aspects of her process – specifically dyeing and sewing – are also inextricably linked to domestic labour, feminism, and craft.
"These paintings do not immediately reveal how they are made or what they are about, yet each advocates for close and sustained reading. The work seeks the space of open interpretation, positioned between the unfamiliar and the familiar. Chromatic expanses and complex shapes play off each other to create paintings that are narratively ambiguous, yet intensely evocative and poignant."
Needles and Pins continues at the McMichael Collection until January 8, 2017.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

World of Threads 2016: some observations

Let me begin with what was perhaps my favourite piece at this year's World of Threads, the biennial festival of fibre art, ending today.

Nine Tales, Joyce Watkins King
nylon hosiery, acrylic paint, wood glue;
stretched, twisted, burned, punctured, wrapped, layered and painted

I liked its bold, graphic quality, its high contrast and interesting use of line and shape. The use of material is innovative and edgy. Below are a couple of detail shots that show how the distressed hosiery makes such great shapes and textures. This piece was, incidentally, hung in one of the better spaces in the facility, a gallery setting with good lighting.

Nine Tales, Joyce Watkins King (detail)

Nine Tales, Joyce Watkins King(detail)

So many of the other great pieces on display would have benefited from the same consideration. As ambitious and impressive as the World of Threads is, it is seriously handicapped by a second-rate exhibition space. Often, works in fibre are complex and subtle, and they need good lighting so the viewer can fully appreciate them. I found that often the beautiful colours and textures only became apparent on close examination. Four years ago, the galleries at Sheridan College were put to use for the World of Threads, and I wish the organization could access that excellent exhibition space again.

Here are a few of the pieces that I particularly enjoyed, including some detail shots:

Serie Conectores, Miriam Medrez, Monterrey, Mexico,
metallic mesh, thread, cotton textile and metallic structure

 Serie Conectores, Miriam Medrez, (detail)

Serie Conectores, Miriam Medrez,  (detail)

Serie Conectores, Miriam Medrez,  (detail)

Losing Touch, Karen Rips, Thousand Oaks, California, USA
cotton, organza, wool, netting, dye, fabric paint, thread;
discharged, felted, painted, hand- and machine-stitched

Losing Touch, Karen Rips (detail)

Enzo-MM - A, Neta Ashauch, Harduf, Israel,
wool; hand felting 

Enzo-MM - A, Neta Ashauch (detail)

Rust-rose, Susan Hotchkis, Guernsey, UK
felt, voile, satin, silk;
digital print, paper lamination, digitized embroidery,
heat distressing, free-motion stitching and trapunto quilting

Rust-rose, Susan Hotchkis (detail)

Crackle, Susan Hotchkis, Guernsey, UK
felt, voile, cotton organdie;
paper lamination, digitized embroidery, heat distressing, appliqué,
free-motion stitching and screen printing

Crackle, Susan Hotchkis (detail)

Earth Repair, Lesley Turner, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
vintage afternoon tea cloth, leaves, cotton thread, wood, jute, sealer;
eco-stained, laundered, hand- and machine-stitched, sealed

Earth Repair, Lesley Turner, (detail)

Declaration of Independence, Marzena Ziejka, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Handspun hand-dyed wool (weft), linen (warp);
Hand-woven tapestry with eccentric weft

Declaration of Independence, Marzena Ziejka (detail)

Fingers crossed: perhaps next time around the organizers will be able to secure a facility that does justice to the impressive work submitted to the show.