Thursday, September 13, 2018

How Do You Eat An Elephant

Last week I was working away at a handful of collages with my pulled string art and some the precious bits of paper I've saved up over the years. One of the pieces that fell together featured an elephant that I printed on washi years and years ago. He appeared in an envelope of bits that fell out of a book I was moving on a shelf. Turns out he was an elephant on a mission and he'd arrived early. His name might be Serendipity.

Having decided that we will move house when we find the right bungalow I have already started to deal with the jobs that I know will trip me up during the packing process. I am being ably assisted by my friend Anne Marie who has a good sense of humour, is a fellow artist so she understands all the various products and treasures and she has a much stronger back than I do! We have tackled my paper studio first. It is an enormous job to sort through 26 years of layers. A couple of days after I made the elephant collage Anne Marie could see I was getting a little discouraged and she told me a story about a manager she had when she worked a regular job. He was forever telling them "one bite at a time" in a slow monotone. I must admit I had forgotten that old adage and Anne Marie had to remind me. "You know. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time."

Of course I immediately knew what was going to happen with the elephant collage that had stumbled out of my scrap box. And I've started it off. It is still very much a work in progress.

And that wily elephant got me thinking. And there is lots of time to think when you are sorting everything from paper to corks! One bite at a time is the answer to so many things.

I thought of it when a friend asked how to get started in lettering. I've been at lettering for a very long time. And I learned it one bite at a time. The problem I have said many times is that people want to take an afternoon class and know how to letter. That is just one small bite and calligraphy is a very large elephant. Actually it is a large herd of elephants. But that is a good thing. You start with one style of lettering and you digest it slowly, lots of leftovers and such. And then you discover a new style and you take a bit of that. It is a whole buffet and there are so many options. It takes years. It fills your life with possibilities and you learn discipline through practice and you make wonderful new friends who become treasured old friends. It isn't just a fast food meal. It is slow food.

I thought about it when I was remembering the amazing meal my friend Chris Titus cooked for a small group of us on Labour Day weekend. She had planned and created and cooked for weeks. The meal was heavenly - so many perfect bites. We were so grateful for the experience but I know that Chris got a thrill from planning those bites and working through the process. I also know she wore herself out because managing an elephant is tiring, rewarding but tiring. What I know for sure is that if I ever had to eat elephant for real (and that is a truly disgusting thought) I'd call her. I know she could find a way to sous vide it. She has a pot for everything! It would taste amazing. It would be served on just the right plate with the perfect wine. There would be sauce.

And then I was thinking about my friend Nancy who is the quintessential organizer. She is an active volunteer who sees a need and finds a way to fill it. One of the organizations that benefits from her energy is the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign ( Her local chapter in Brampton finds many creative ways to earn money to support AIDS work in Africa (yes, this is still a major problem) but one of my favourites is their soup luncheon where you take 5 books to trade for 5 new books and share a lunch of homemade soups. (It is coming up if you are local and interested!) They are literally serving up the 'elephant' one bite at a time, finding a practical way to support grandmothers in Africa who are raising the children who have lost their parents to AIDS.

So I will continue to try and be cheery as I head into the studio, taking my daily bite of the elephant. I know that when it is tamed the sewing room awaits. And then the office. By the time I get moved I am going to be really sick of elephant.

And my collage that is WIP will get gloriously tangled. I've already started roughing in some ideas in pencil. Zentangle is another thing that is one bite at a time although we say it is "one stroke at a time". You don't worry about how long it will take or where it will take you. You just take the cap off your pen and make the first stroke. I'll let you know when it is done. It may be a while.

Thursday, August 23, 2018


I was planning to start this blog by writing about perfectionism and to end it by introducing a little tangle I've been playing with that I call Hexonu. I couldn't find just the right way to segue from one topic to the other. So I'm skipping the bit about perfectionism pretty much completely and jumping into the tangle. That is one thing I've learned about perfectionism by the way - you can just say, "This is so not worth stressing over" and move on.

What I will say about perfectionism is that I've been finding myself more interested in things that are slightly off balance, less than perfect, funky if you will. I'm attracted to the energy they have. And now, on to the tangle...

In an attempt to keep my house from sinking I was doing my annual purge of magazines. I came across an ad that was visually appealing and stopped to look at it. I was attracted to the tension between the rules of geometry and the rules of balance. The page came out to join my image files and I've been playing with the design ever since.

When I looked at the image I immediately saw hexagons with off centred "centres" and radiating lines from the centres to the vertices. Simple yet magical. The eye was pulled around the image and surprised at every turn.

In playing with the tangle I've been surprised at all the ways Hexonu can be used. It works simplified, it works shaded, it works filled...I can't wait to see how you make it work. And I know you will want to try it. It put a hex on me and I know it will put a hex on you too.

Thursday, April 12, 2018


It has been a long time since I took time to write a blog post. Life got busy and I kept pushing writing off a day here, another day there. And suddenly seasons have passed and I haven't posted. And truly in all that busy-ness there was so much to do and so little time to think, so little time to process. Luckily, life is a spiral path and I have been slowly moving back to a place where I felt I had something that was ready to share. It isn't much, but it is a start: sometimes you just have to jump back in and trust that more will follow. I've learned that along the way. The spiral aspect of life, especially the artistic life, is one of the things that keeps us growing as we circle the mountain in ever rising loops looking to reach the summit. We can't lose sight of that.

The spiral nature of the tangle Printemp makes it one of my favourites. I can literally sit and draw it for hours, using it to fill in spaces while I calm my mind. The name of the tangle is a little bit of a jest, using the French word for the season of spring to describe the spiral. (The actual French word for an actual spring is ressort I believe.)

When I began drawing this tangle I am going to introduce you to I wanted to use the same sort of jest when I named it. It is a wave and I call it Boucle (without an accent because that is too hard on an English keyboard) instead of vague de l'océan which would be the correct word. Vague just seemed wrong. Boucle is a twist in the yarn used to make a fabric and it looks like a pin curl. This tangle reminds me of that and also, back in the day, women referred to getting their hair permed as getting a wave.

I like the image of the wave. For me it represents happy times at the seaside, Caribbean warmth stolen in time away from the punishing winters devoid of light. It represents the crests and crashes in life, the ebb and flow rhythm we all experience. It represents the salty solutions. As Isak Dinesen said "The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea." And I love that this wave is doubled in the tangle giving it the feeling of yin and yang.

So without further ado here is Boucle (boo-clay). My apologies if this already exists in the tangle universe - it has become nigh unto impossible to keep track of tangles. It fell out of my hand one afternoon while I was working at Ogonquit in a class led by Kate Lamontagne. It was a lovely gift from the universe and I am grateful.

When you bring the strokes out in Step Two and Step Three it is important to go back into the circle and branch the strokes out naturally. This gives a better flow to the strokes and it also slows you down and makes you more mindful of the shape you are drawing. The wave strokes can be drawn in the opposite direction if that feels more natural or you want to change up the look a little. I showed that in the last box. The second from last box shows a couple of the strokes doubled, again to give more visual interest.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Why Do You Go Away

“Why do you go away?
So that you can come back.
So that you can see the place
you came from with new eyes and extra colors.
And the people there see you differently, too.

Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”

Terry Pratchett
A Hat Full of Sky
I am a traveler. I travel for fun. I travel for work. I travel to catch up with my husband who is an ubertraveler. Together we travel to take photographs.We travel to eat great food and taste new wines. We travel to recharge.

As an artist, traveling gives me many rewards. I get to explore different cultures and aesthetics. For me, traveling  keeps my work fresh and vital. In searching for a way to explain how travel does that, I've chosen to think about how my travels effect the way I use the basic elements of art: colour, form, line, shape, space, texture, and value.

Colour: I experience things in a new light. Literally. I remember the morning of my first day the first time I went to Europe. I had landed in Lyon in the dark and when I opened my drapes to look out at the city the next morning there was the sky that I had seen in countless paintings in the galleries at home. I had always assumed that the artists had exaggerated the blues. They had not. The light in France is different than the light in Toronto. In fact the light is different in Lyonnais than it is on thein Normandy or the Riviera, or Alsace or Paris... And the different light makes so many things new again if you have the time to look. My husband loves to photograph sunsets. It is true that no two are alike but it is also true that a Muskoka sunset is totally different from a desert sunset or a tropical one. The sun in each place has its own perspective on the earth.

Form: From the shapes of buildings to the shapes of trees, traveling opens me up to seeing space organized in different ways. Although we are often in cities where churches and temples, skyscrapers and domestic housing catch the eye and inform my experience in new ways, my favourite trips take me to the country or seashore where I can see pastoral horizons and tree forms, crashing waves, tide pools and sea shells. I get re-energized by natural forms and those forms get used and re-imagined in my work when I get home.

Line: I am a calligrapher and letters are composed of lines. Traveling opens me up to new letterforms. I don't need to be able to read the signs to be heavilly influence by them! I see new ways of combining strokes, of using thicks and thins, of using rivers of white space. Even nature finds ways of speaking to me.

Shape: As I work mostly with organic forms the shapes I am inspired by when I travel are the shapes of new-to-me flora and fauna. As a northerner when I travel in the winter and find myself in greener spaces I am like a thirsty traveller in the desert. I can't get enough. I have thousands of photos of leaves in different forms of growth and decay. My collection of sea shells and stones is legion.

Space: I'm a trekkie so when I think of space the first thing I hear in my head is "the final frontier". And if you think about it that really helps with this concept. Work inspired by urban settings is more dense, has a different sense of personal space, almost no negative space. Work inspired by the country or the seashore needs more breathing room, there is more balance of negative and positive space, even in scenes captured with a macro lens. Work inspired by outer space is almost all negative space. Although I live in a city I have enough parkland near me to make it feel more natural. When I arrive in other big cities I am overwhelmed by the lack of sky and by the lack of quiet space. I feel a tightness and an immediacy that sends me looking for a botanical garden or a park and makes me more appreciative of the natural forms there.

Texture: I am a toucher. In antique stores I hold my hands behind my back to keep from touching valuable things. I love to touch things when I travel and experience the feel of the materials they use to build with. Old marble steps that have been worn down by a thousand years of use have a totally different feel and look than steps made in the new world that have hardly been used at all. Clay worked in the hands of Greek artisans both past and present feels different than the pottery of my local potters. Japanese silk is different than European silk. The bark of a plane tree in Maui is different than that of one in a botanical garden in Europe. The sand on one beach in Galapagos is different than that of an adjacent island. You only know this if you touch. And having touched, any fibre artist would then start to think about how that feeling could be translated into a quilt or a piece of beaded work.

Value: One February morning we got up early to fly from Toronto to Maui. There was a blizzard. The airline still had our flight listed to go so against all odds we headed out and made it to the airport. The plane loaded late because they were struggling to move the luggage about on the tarmac. We then sat in a line to deice for hours. The world outside the plane window was white, grey and greyer. We missed our connecting flight and landed in Maui a day late. We entered a world of green. Everywhere we looked there was green. Blue green, yellow green, light green, pale green, dark green, green shadows...too many greens to number because when you tried a puffy cloud move across the sun and they all changed again. Would I have been so energized by the colour green if I had left Canada in July? Maybe not. But ever since, I have been fascinated by green and by the myriad of ways there are to mix it. My favourite at the moment is yellow and black. Give that a try!

Travel is the gift that keeps on giving. You have the wonderful experiences and exhilaration that new foods and new sights brings to you. You return to your own home and studio with fresh eyes so that you can reap the benefits of seeing your own world and the inspirations it can bring. You have the touchstones you purchase or find that remind you of your wonderful experiences and you have the photos you took as you travel. Its is win, win, win! all the way. Well all except the packing and unpacking of course.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Case for Synthesis

I fell in love with the work of Ann Hechle in the 1980's. She is an elegant calligrapher with a style that is at once both clean and complex, she has a way of using colour that is subtle and engaging. I tried to get her to come to Toronto to teach but she was unable to because of  family commitments. And so I packed my bags and headed to the University of Sunderland in northern England for a conference where she was teaching. To be honest I had no idea what it was she was teaching. I didn't care. The course was on Sacred Geometry and that week changed my artistic life.

Ann, pictured here in her younger years and in later life, started our first day with a piece of white paper and a stone that she had found on a nearby beach. The stone was round and smooth and dark. She worked her magic with it, moving it around on a sheet of white photocopy paper. Her voice was quiet, slow paced, thoughtful. She wove a spell with that rock and taught me more about design in that first hour than anyone before or since. My attraction to stones and natural forms had been strong before. After that day, the attraction became an obsession. And yes, I went to that nearby beach and found a stone to bring home as an aide-mémoire.

I have had the opportunity to study with Ann a number of times and each time I come away richer for the interaction with her brilliant mind. Each time I have arrived in her class as a different student because I have taken the time to practise and use the lessons I learned in her classes and in others. Each time I have allowed the process of synthesis to take place.

And this process of synthesis, the lessons I learned with the stone and with all the other stones and natural shapes I have studied in the ensuing years, shapes and images that have seeped into my artistic vocabulary until I reach for them without thinking, are the reasons that the newest official  tangle, Spoken, speaks so eloquently to me. It is why I bring to you the case for synthesis and urge you to work in ways that will let a similar process create magic for you. Not so that you can create my imagery but so that you can create your own.

What compels me towards Spoken (and its kissing cousin Arukas) is that it encapsulates the design energy that I felt during the Sacred Geometry class when we explored not only the power of one but also the power of the other numbers that inform the history of western design without our even being aware of them. What is magic about Spoken is that it is a practically failure proof way of dividing space that creates a balanced, energetic, vibrant dynamic on the page. Take a breath, draw an ovoid anywhere on your page. Follow the simple steps to create Spoken. Try it for yourself.

But more importantly, think about the classes you have taken recently. What were the big ideas you took away. Give yourself the gift of time to fully immerse yourself in the lessons and watch how they inform your work and make you grow. This is the gift of synthesis.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Post-Conference Funk

I've just returned from Tangle U 2017 and I am dedicating this blog to my fellow attendees. They may be experiencing Post- Conference Funk today and in the days ahead and I have some advice for them.

Although not yet recognized by the medical community, rest assured this is a real syndrome. It is characterised by a general feeling of malaise and may be accompanied by an overwhelming need to sleep. Some artists find themselves feeling incompetent at art, feeling that there creations of the week before were a sham or a mirage. Severe cases of this syndrome can be quite debilitating. (Seriously. Although I am keeping the tone of this blog light I have known a number of artists who are severely effected. A friend once told me that he could hardly sleep for weeks before a conference and was ecstatic for the first half of the week. And then he confided that he woke up midconference feeling quite down, quite panicked, because he dreaded the end of the conference and the barren times to come.)  
I believe PCF is caused by a combination of things. First, there is the sudden cessation of  the adrenaline rush that is created when spending time with like-minded people who don't need an explanation every time you fall into a swoon because of art supplies. They know why you fondle a Palomino pencil or caress a PanPastel compact And then there is the loss of mental stimulation  compounded by the loss of a continuous array of eye candy. After days of living with your tribe, hugging your tribe, laughing with your tribe, crying with your tribe, feeling truly understood by your tribe, you are tired - tired right out - BUT excessively happy. And then suddenly you are thrown back into reality, plunged right back into it at the airport when you get packed in like a sardine on a plane with a bunch of 'normal' people who just can't understand you, don't even want to try. Your glowing creative light is smothered by their muggle breath. The plane lands and reality really hits full force. No matter how much you have missed your family, love your progeny, the reality of it all likely sucks. There are traffic jams and sticky counters, empty milk cartons, paying jobs to face, laundry to do...the fun is suddenly gone and you are expected to behave responsibly. And this is when you are most vulnerable to Post Conference Funk.
There is no known cure for this syndrome but I would like to share a few things that help me when I find myself suffering from it.
1. Sleep. You are overtired from running on adrenaline, eating too much, and talking all night. Go to bed early, sleep in late if you can. Otherwise you are going to act like a grumpy toddler and your loved ones will talk about you behind your back.
2. Eat healthy. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables every day and drink lots of water. You have to hydrate after you travel.
3. Play. Get out all the art supplies and finish what you started or make each project again. This is especially true if you learned a new skill. If you took one of my bookbinding classes cut some paper and get folding and sewing. Draw new patterns.Play with those new toys. Start a sketchbook to explore the new ideas you were exposed to. If there is one thing I know for sure it is this - LAUNDRY WILL WAIT! Remember how good it felt to be creative all day everyday? You are unlikely to be allowed to do this now that you are home BUT make art a priority every day and let something else go.
4. Every day at the conference you heard people say inspiring and affirming things. You need more of that in your life, especially this week. Last year Elizabeth Gilbert wrote a book called Big Magic. It is a very inspirational read but what is just as good, and perhaps even better, is the series of free podcasts that she did to go with it. The podcasts are called Magic Lessons and you can download them for free from iTunes or from My favourite is Season 1: Episode 12, but listen to them all. They are about everyday people who are trying to live like artists and who think they are failing. Elizabeth counsels them and shows them that they are going to be okay. Her voice is calming and enouraging. The podcasts will buoy you up when you think you might be sinking. They will make you remember that you aren't alone, or abnormal or weird. And again, they are free.
5. Keep in touch with your tribe. Stay connected on FB or on on whatever other social media you use. Form private groups with five or six kindred spirits or as many as you are comfortable with and share uplifting ideas and images of your work with each other. Strengthen your bond with the new friends you've met. FB can be a force for good if you use it that way and ignore all the other stuff. Send letters, send care packages, burn up the phone lines. Now that you have found kindred spirits never let them go!
And now, I am going to have a big glass of water and go for a nap. The dog is coming with. Pretty much everywhere I go today the dog is coming with me. She hates the laundry room, so we aren't going there. And even a dog knows that the best thing to do with laundry is sleep on it.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Knotty Business

It has been a long time since I've done a blog post. Life has been busy, full of a myriad of twists and turns. I've spent lots of time tangling in order to stay as calm as possible.

Long before Zentangle, way back in the early 80s, one of the ways I relaxed was to draw Celtic knots. I know, I'm a strange one. The curves and weave of the lines really appeal to me. They've become second nature to me but I know they aren't for many of you. So, as we head into the "Irish" month I want to share a knotting process that really simplifies the process.

Stan has shot 3 videos for me which highlight 3 tangles: Feeling Knotty, Simply Knotty and Extra Knotty. You will find an informal step out and examples below.

Feeling Knotty:

Simply Knotty:

Extra Knotty:

Step Outs