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.


  1. It was fun to travel with you a bit and especially to see green in the way you are seeing it. What a great post! Makes me want to go somewhere...

  2. Thank you for the good and very helpful information. It is very interesting.


Please be respectful when leaving comments keeping in mind the sensibilities of other readers when choosing the language you use. Comments that are inappropriate in tone, language or content will be removed.