Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Power of an object

When I was decorating the tree before Christmas, I heard a crackling sound. At first I didn't know what it was. Then I looked down at the remaining ornaments still carefully laid out on the coffee table, and I could see that one of my favorites—a lilac and silver heart—had cracked all over.
When I showed my “broken” heart to John, he said the reason why it had cracked was to let out more love. Hmm. I had a feeling there was a lesson in all this ...or maybe even a poem. But I forgot about it until Christmas Day when my sister-in-law Wendy presented me with a replacement: a beautiful silver heart. (Wendy and I both love hearts, so she could relate to me losing mine).

Yesterday I decided I'd photograph the two of them together to send to Wendy. Unfortunately the lilac and silver heart disintegrated when I touched it. The funny thing is: when I looked at the photo afterwards, I could see myself taking the picture of it reflected in several of the fragments. I’m not sure what the lesson is here (or if there even has to be one), but I do know I've let go of my attachment to the heart and ended up with a visual poem.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Poetry says something...

While I was printing up some pictures for Christmas presents last night, I realized that I’ve said goodbye to a lot of my art in 2009—like this mixed media piece: Poetry says something nothing else can. I worked on it on and off for at least five years, and with the deadline of my show approaching in October, I said to myself: This is something you must finish. Suddenly, it all came together. Then Poetry spoke to someone and now has a new home.
Thinking about the whole process in retrospect, I can see I was so enamored with the central image (it’s a painting by the 17th century Italian artist Carlo Dolci called Poetry) that I couldn’t make a any kind of decision I felt was visually worthy of her. Once I made her less personal and focused on the act of writing poetry, I was able to finish.
The interesting thing is that Carlo Dolci was a notoriously slow painter himself. “[S]ometimes he would take weeks over a single foot,” wrote his biographer Baldinucci. By all accounts, Dolci was a very sensitive man. He suffered from depression and went into a decline triggered by Luca Giordano’s 1682 visit to Florence. Luca joked that his own rapid style had brought him a fortune, but Dolci would starve if he kept taking so long. Dolci also had a daughter called Agnese who made copies of his work and was a painter in her own right.
The image I used of Poetry seems to be the one around that's available to scan. I got her from a book my godmother gave me years ago …a 1908 bio of Carlo Dolci by George Hay. The reproductions are all hand-tinted because there was no color photography in those days. If you want to check out the book, you can read it online here.And by a curious coincidence, a miniature portrait painted of Dolci painted in the 18th century by Nardelli is available on Ebay right now for $1795.00 U.S (see below). I'm thinking it's time to buy myself a lottery ticket pronto.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Emma and Bryan

It was Jean Luc Picard who frequently said Engage on Star Trek, and he might as well have been advising my children because Emma is now engaged to her boyfriend Byran …or I guess I should say: fiancé. We really like Bryan who is a salt of the earth kind of guy and perfect for Emma. But Emma says she lacks the wedding gene and thinks heading to Vegas might be a good idea after figuring out that she wanted to invite at least 300 people to her wedding and will need about twenty bridesmaids.
Is it my imagination, or are weddings much more complicated today? Having been a bridesmaid, a maid of honor and a bride I’m almost certain that they are. But just to get Emma inspired about the bridesmaid’s dresses, here is a picture of my cousin Ann’s 1970s wedding party. (I’m on the left).

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Almost Midnight

I haven’t been doing any assemblage lately because I’ve been focusing on Photoshop. But I really like this one I did a few weeks ago called After Midnight which includes the rusted back of a nametag and a china doll missing a leg that I ordered from Jennifer Pearson Vanier.
Jennifer has all sorts of nifty stuff for collage and assemblage at The Milkhouse Gallery in Prescott, Ontario and CTV did a feature on Jennifer and her husband Marty a few months back I really enjoyed watching.
Now where was I? Oh yes, Photoshop and assemblage. I’ve been busy creating, printing and framing some new pictures and as usual, framing makes me gnarly. Fed up with dust motes and fingerprints trapped under glass, I sat down to play in Photoshop and became completely absorbed. When I finally came up for air, I shifted to get more comfortable and, well, there was the musical sound of glass shattering under my rear end.

How could I have possibly spent all that time framing and then sat down on a finished piece without realizing it? No point in being annoyed though. I think things like this happen for a reason …i.e. stay focused on the task at hand (or wherever). It also made me realize how much I’ve missed doing assemblage. I have some great ideas that involve an oil tin and a chemistry beaker (also from Jennifer), but time will only tell if I follow through.
P.S. If you live in the Toronto area and can make it, our annual Extra-Ordinary Jolly Christmas Sale is happening this Saturday December 5th 2009 from 10 am till 4 pm at the Swansea Town Hall, 95 Lavinia Avenue, Toronto Ontario M6S 3H9. Hope to see you there! I’ll be flogging my wares, or more precisely wearing my flogs …whatever that means.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

I’d Rather Be on Bird Time

We’re heading to the airport in about an hour to pick up Emma. She left Maun in Botswana on Friday night and flew to the country’s capital, Gabarone. From Gabarone she flew to Johannesburg, from Johannesburg to London (an 11 hour flight) and right now she’s somewhere over North America heading on home. In all, Emma will have spent 22 hours in the sky over the last couple of days.
Somehow flying seems way more efficient if you’re a bird (or even a monarch butterfly). No need to worry about luggage restrictions, customs, airline strikes or missing your connection. Maybe one of these days we’ll have figured out teleportation and will be able to get from Toronto to Botswana in the twinkling of an eye. On the other hand, I guess the longer it takes the more aware you are that the world is a very big and very varied place. All this ruminating about flying makes me think about I’d Rather Be on Bird Time—a mixed media canvas I did a couple of months ago. I didn’t name it until I’d finished because I really didn’t know what I was doing with it up until the moment when I added the birds. But somehow I think my birds appreciate the unpredictability of it all.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Extra-Ordinary Jolly Christmas Sale

Our annual Extra-Ordinary Jolly Christmas Sale—organized by Karen Arts—will take place on Saturday December 5th 2009 from 10 am till 4 pm at the Swansea Town Hall, 95 Lavinia Avenue, Toronto Ontario M6S 3H9.
I will be selling mixed media art, digital prints, collage sheets, new CDs of images and my book: Creating from the Inside Out.
Here’s a list of the other artisans and their nifty creative stuff.
Karen Arts – Works of Arts
Beautiful and unusual gemstone bead and silver, one of a kind jewelry
Carmi Cimicata
Resin, paper and fibre embellishments, buttons, magnets and baubles
Mary Ambrose
Eclectic / vintage style jewelry and home accessories
Marissa Decepida-Wong – MDW Designs
Collection of unique jewelry, hand-made cards and art pieces.
Aracely Cruz
Quilled art and collection of exquisite ribbon jewelry
Sharon Ginsberg
Fabric boxes, vintage, framed tree ornaments, doggie knits
Martha Brown
Soft and sparkly ornaments hand-crafted from fabric and aluminumFor instructions on how to get to Swansea Town Hall, just follow this link.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Birthday in Botswana

Emma is into her third week of volunteering as a human rights lawyer in Botswana. This is a picture of the faux African hut where she’s living. It has air conditioning, a TV and a fridge which I think is hilarious. I don’t think she ever imagined that roughing it would involve central air, although it is over 90 degrees every day.
Emma celebrated her birthday this weekend by going on a safari to the Okavango Delta with two of her friends. She saw hippos, impalas, cheetahs, lions, elephants and giraffes. At one point she was just a few feet away from two lions eating a baby impala. “If that doesn’t make you a vegetarian nothing will, Mom,” she told me when I talked to her today. Nevertheless, Emma said it was the most exciting weekend of her life. So in honor of Emma’s birthday and the great continent of Africa, here’s a mini collage sheet of mainly African wildlife to download.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lily's Fourteenth Birthday

I didn’t have any Kraft dinner to give Lily for her birthday today, but she seemed delighted with her dinner of cheese and spinach ravioli with green beans and broccoli. One of the great things about having a dog is that they don’t complain about their food. They’re usually just delighted (and grateful) for anything you manage to rustle up. At least Lily is. I thought her appetite would decline as she got older, but no: she would happily snack 24 hours a day if I let her.
There’s no doubt that Lily is showing her age though. Her eyelashes have gone white and she sleeps a lot more. However, she still chases the neighbor’s cat (unsuccessfully of course) and jumps up onto the couch without any difficulty. As anyone with an elderly pet knows, you don’t want to even consider your beloved going. It really squeezes your heart just thinking about the inevitability of it all.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

David and Leigh

David and Leigh are planning a lovely church wedding in Austin, Texas next year, and they had their civil ceremony yesterday at Toronto City Hall. It was a beautiful day and you’ve never seen two people happier about getting married than David and his sweet Leigh. John and I were the witnesses, and Emma, her boyfriend Bryan, my parents, my siblings and most of my nieces and nephews (plus partners) were there too. After the ceremony we all went to the Peter Pan Bistro on Queen Street for brunch. (John and I had our first date at the same restaurant in 1980 so we thought it would be the perfect spot to celebrate).

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

What do people really want?

Yesterday Jennifer and I had a discussion about participating in art shows and craft sales. We agreed that neither of us could figure out in advance what people actually want or like. When you can do this, then you’re able to tailor your work to meet the demand for what’s hot at the moment visually.
Unfortunately this doesn’t always translate into positive feedback or sales, so that’s why I just follow my own personal agenda and hope that people will get me (although I must admit that I don’t get my own self most of the time).
Take this mixed media piece in my show for instance. The main reason I made it was because I wanted to use the magnifying mirror I’d found on one of my jaunts to Active Surplus with Mary. I don’t know what pleased me more, the serene way in which this work unfolded or choosing the title when I finished: Her Inner Aviary.
So far no one is as enamored of this piece as I am …i.e. it hasn’t sold yet. I really can’t say this bothers me because I have been doing well sales-wise with my show. I also feel that if my art children don’t find their real art home, they’re always welcome to come back and camp out with me—or in this case: roost.

If you haven’t seen my show: Creating from the Inside Out, it runs until November 15th at the Peel Heritage Complex in Brampton. You can click here for more details or visit to see the slide show John put together of my show.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Checking in from the digital salon

Leslie had an entry on her blog back in August called Bring back the Salon and I’ve thought about it nearly every day since. With a certain wistfulness, Leslie mentions how wonderful it would be to just lounge around—I believe she uses the word languish—just talking, reading and socializing regularly with like-minded people.
In a way, that’s what happens online. When you go to other people’s blogs you get to catch up with their news, and you’re usually stimulated, refreshed, entertained and inspired. But there’s nothing like this actually happening person-to-person. If you’ve ever watched the TV show Lie to Me, you can see how important visual and verbal queues are to communication, and how much they add to it.
Of course not all groups provide the right atmosphere. My parents belong to a book club they really enjoy, but I know other people who say all the members in their group do is to argue about the choice of books and/or what is in them—which kind of defeats the purpose of having a club, doesn’t it?
I’ve never belonged to this kind of group myself mainly because I don’t want to have to read certain books. Then again, if I got to choose all of them that might work! One month it could be science fiction, next month Wayne Dyer and the month after that, a romance—and what about the Photoshop WoW book just to drive everyone completely crazy? The problem with having a jackrabbit mind like mine is that you’re always on your own trajectory, which doesn’t necessarily intersect with anyone else’s.
I do have a fantasy of winning the lottery and buying an island in Muskoka or Georgian Bay with sunset views, fireplaces and a beautifully appointed guesthouse. I’d invite all my friends like Leslie up for weeklong salon/spa experiences and fly in interesting people to entertain them. I imagine Nick Bantock himself might even be tempted to come to if the price was right.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Creating from the Inside Out

For those of you who have been asking about my book, you can order a copy now.
I’ve called it Creating from the Inside Out: Motivational Strategies for Artists & Writers.
It’s filled with inspiring quotations, mini essays on the creative process, and black and white digital collages.
Creating from the Inside Out is 177 pages: 6.5 x 6.5" and coil bound.
Each copy is $25 (Canadian) plus postage.
To order: email me at

So how do you review your own book? If I had a promotional turn of mind I’d probably come up with a list of five good reasons why you should read it. But I have to be honest. The main reason I wrote Creating from the Inside Out was because I had to.
For years I felt like I was hovering around the edges of my own creativity. I could never seem to access it with any kind of consistency, and this frustrated me. I became convinced that if I only had more—more time, more money, more talent, more opportunities, more support from the universe, more recognition from others (etc.)—then I’d be able to enter the magic kingdom/queendom of creativity and proceed full speed ahead.
I thought to myself: if there’s a system to creativity, I’m going to find out what it is and then tell everyone else. And if it turned out there wasn’t one …well, I was going to invent my own!
But I soon discovered that you can’t control creativity. It’s huge and it’s fluid, and all you can ever hope to do—and the only thing you should do—is to align yourself with it. You’re an individual reflection of something greater than you are, and your task is to get down to the business of expressing who you really are.
This can’t be done by wishing your circumstances were different or by waiting for ideal conditions. No. You need to act—and you need to act now. I suggest you begin by examining your thinking because the way you view the creative process will influence the action you’re likely to take—or not take, as so often happens.
Let me give you an example. Time was the first topic I tackled when I started working on my book. I’d always felt that not having enough of it was responsible for holding me back. But the more I thought about this, the more I realized I spent more time being annoyed about my lack of it than actually using what I had! I also believed that unless there were several free hours available to paint or write, there was no point in starting anything.
While it’s true we don’t ask for many of the challenges life hands out to us, we have to take responsibility for them anyway—and once I recognized it was up to me to use what time I did have wisely, things really began to open up for me.
Self-motivation is crucial to anyone who wants a happier and more fulfilled life, and it’s my hope that people who read my book will be inspired to take action towards realizing their own creative dreams. Making even small changes to the way you engage in your creative process can deliver big results down the line. I firmly believe that if I can write and illustrate a book—and have a solo art show—you can achieve what you want to do as well. You probably won’t accomplish this with Zen-like serenity and immediate results because I know I didn’t. But don’t let that hold you back. Just go for it. Not tomorrow, next week or next year but right NOW!

Monday, October 05, 2009

When Destiny Calls

What I really wanted to do today was to stay in bed reminiscing about the opening of my art show on Saturday and how much fun I had. But I needed to finish writing a long freelance article I’d been assigned before indulging.
Now it’s early Monday morning and I’m sitting here at the computer grinning. Maureen, who was in charge of hanging and coordinating my show at The Whitney Gallery, told me not to be discouraged if only a few people made it to the opening because sometimes this happens.
But I wasn’t worried. One of the good things about having a large family is that you know they will always support you whether or not they’re in the mood, so at least 12 of them showed up plus a boyfriend and a fiancée, along with a ton of friends, neighbors and art buddies. Okay, so I don’t know how much a ton is, but it was a heartwarming number. Mary, Lennie, Nancy, Cori, June, Lanre, Cherri and Karen all stopped in to visit along with Bill, Andrea, Yvonne, Peter, Steve, Al, Peggy, Doug, Carolyn, Kim, Diana, Dave, Susan V and husband, Rosemary and Jeanette—if I’ve forgotten to mention you, I apologize. At one point Maureen told me that 118 people had been in to look at my work, so there were obviously lots of people I didn’t know, but I enjoyed meeting quite a few of them.
Naturally I had a great time gabbing to everyone and signing copies of my book Creating from the Inside Out. (Speaking of my book, I’ll have more to say on that subject very soon). There were several highpoints including meeting Lennie (my online pal and Photoshop guru), and being taken out to a big family dinner afterwards by my sister Pam and brother-in-law Brian.
John is putting together a slide show of the event which he plans to put on the website he’s working on for me. In the meantime, here’s a 16 x 20” mixed media canvas, When Destiny Calls, which will be heading for its new home when the show is over on November 15th.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Only ten more days…

Apparently it was Duke Ellington who said: “I don’t need time; I need a deadline.” I’ve always thought that was a great quote because there’s nothing like a deadline to sharpen your focus and concentrate your energy. But when you actually have one that’s unavoidable—like I do with my upcoming show—the gift of more time would be a spectacular bonus. (However, I also know that work will continue to expand as long as there’s space available).
What I’ve discovered over the past few months is that no matter how single-minded you are and how solid your work ethic is, three things are certain:
First—anything you do (especially if it’s important to you) is going to be way more complicated than you thought it would be.
Second—it’s also going to take you about three times longer than you planned …if you’re lucky.
Third—being in control is a complete illusion. Just when you think you’re organized and ahead of the game, something happens to turn that perception inside out.
There have been many moments when I’ve considered bailing out altogether because what I first envisioned won’t be appearing in a gallery anytime soon—if ever. This experience has turned into a finishing off of things I wanted to finish, and a saying goodbye to others.

I’m sure there are plenty of life lessons here that I could be more aware of and thoughtful about, but all I can think is: only ten more days and I’ll be free to indulge in a marathon of socializing, reading trashy novels, watching a ton of TV, and yes, doing more blogging.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Life of Byron

I owe Carmi Cimicata a big thank you for the care package of vintage photos she mailed to me last week. Let me tell you, it acted just like catnip to my Leo senses—I think I actually meowed.
Anyway, in amongst the pictures Carmi sent me was this one of a baby with the face and posture of a grown up, and written on the back was “Byron Blackthorn Hawksridge 2nd, Aged 10 months.” Yes, I know it sounds like the name of a hero in a romance novel, and while Byron is actually the baby’s first name, I changed the other two to preserve his privacy. But his middle and last name are actually more interesting than the ones I chose for him.
The reason I want to protect his identity is because I decided to do a web search for him after talking to Mary. (Mary Ambrose—in case you don’t know it—has her private investigator’s license, a feat she accomplished while she was pregnant with her son Hayden).
Now where was I? Oh yes, so I did a search for Byron, and first found his namesake and grandfather who was born in 1835, hated his name Jedediah and changed it to Byron. To make a long story short, through an obituary, I eventually tracked down one of Byron II’s daughters in the U.S. and offered to send her the photo of her dad. She was thrilled to hear that there was a baby picture of him in existence. Between us, we figured out that the photo was probably taken in 1918 and sent to a Canadian relative by Byron’s mother in Maine. Naturally I’d like to know more about Byron (who was an engineer), but I didn’t want to seem pushy.

What was gratifying to me about this experience was not only to find out there was a real person behind one of the images I like to work with, but that I was also to be able to send Byron’s three daughters a precious memento of their dad. So thank you Carmi for this heart-warming experience. I couldn’t alter Byron’s image though. Somehow it didn’t seem right.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

You are invited

I’d like to extend an invitation to all of my readers who can make it to come to the opening of my art show on Saturday, October 3rd between 2 and 4 pm at the Whitney Community Gallery in Brampton.
The gallery is part of the Peel Heritage Complex, which includes our regional archives, a museum, a 19th century jail and the Art Gallery of Peel.
My show runs from October 3rd to November 15th and will include mixed media, digital collage and assemblage. I’ve called it Creating from the Inside Out—after the title of my upcoming book—and if all goes well with the publishing end of things, I should have some copies of my book available at the opening too. The Whitney Gallery is located at 9 Wellington St. East in Brampton and you can visit Monday to Friday from 10 am to 4:30 pm; Thursday evenings from 6 to 9 pm; and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4:30 pm.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Yes, I’m still here

I’ve had a few phone calls and emails lately asking me if I’m okay—and whether or not I’m still planning to post to my blog. Of course I am. Things just seem to have gotten away from me in the past few weeks though. I haven’t written in my journal for over a month now either.
The problem is: the longer you put off writing a blog entry, the harder it becomes to do one. Instead of it being a natural and spontaneous action, you start questioning if you actually have anything worthwhile to say. Not that I don’t have good reasons for being a blogcrastinator—writing articles, getting ready for my show, preparing my book for the printer, having the flu and so on. But thinking back, I guess the only fun thing I haven’t let slide is Photoshop. I took these two pictures of flowers on my daily walk and then combined them with a couple of textures Lennie posted to her blog on August 21st. There’s nothing like playing around with other people’s photos to get me back in the swing of things. So thanks Lennie. I owe this post to you.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Fifteen Books

Last Monday Irene was tagged by Leslie to take fifteen minutes and make up a list of fifteen books that have stayed with her—so, of course, I had to make up a list too.
But I limited mine to novels because it was just too overwhelming to make decisions otherwise.
In no particular order (and with some ganging up), here is my list:
The Emily Trilogy by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
Trust Me and Hidden Talents by Jayne Ann Krentz

His Dark Materials Trilogy (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass) by Phillip Pullman
The Chronicles of Narnia (particularly The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)

by C.S. Lewis
Inner Harbor by Nora Roberts
Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Weaveworld by Clive Barker
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein
The Shining by Stephen King
The Tales of Alvin Maker by Orson Scott Card
The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
I think it’s obvious from my list that I was never an enthusiastic English literature student even though I have a B.A. in the subject. I like mystery, fantasy, science fiction, romance, the occasional horror novel and books about individualistic children finding their true path in life.
The only one I actually recall studying in university was Pride and Prejudice. But I didn’t appreciate it until I saw Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in the 1995 TV mini series. The fact that several people phoned afterwards to say that Colin Firth looked like my husband obviously affected my judgment.
As to the other books on my list, each choice was an instinctive one. I think the books you gravitate to are like the people you hold dear. You can’t always explain the attraction, you just know it’s there, so the best thing to do is just go with the flow.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Slow Art

Because of everything else that’s going on in my life, I haven’t been able to blog as often as I’d like to for a while now. So tonight I was thinking: I wonder if I can Photoshop something in five minutes and then post it? Five minutes went by, then ten and twenty, and I finally got something that seemed okay to me a half an hour later.
Whoever my muse is, he/she just hates to be rushed. In fact he/she really just prefers to sit around ruminating and puttering (rather than actually encouraging me to finish things off).
This started me thinking about doing things slowly. I know there’s a whole slow food movement that’s really, really popular all over the world. In fact if you google slow food, you’ll get at least 300,000,000 hits.
But what about slow art? Turns out it’s popular too. There are actually people around who will spend several months working on a postage stamp sized piece of art.
“Slow is used as a term of respect for the way art is made and how it is best viewed,” says artist Deborah Barlow. And here’s another quote I love:
What we need more of is slow art: art that holds time as a vase holds water: art that grows out of modes of perception and making whose skill and doggedness make you think and feel; art that isn’t merely sensational, that doesn’t get its message across in ten seconds, that isn’t falsely iconic, that hooks onto something deep-running in our natures. In a word, art that is the very opposite of mass media. (Art critic Robert Hughes)

Cool, eh? Looks like I’ve finally found my tribe. But I think I’m going to take my time getting to know them.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Digital Coolness

For anyone who is would like to learn Photoshop, but is apprehensive about it, here’s some inspiration. Five years ago, at the age 87, fashion photographer Lillian Bassman decided to tackle the program. She spends six or seven hours a day playing in Photoshop and says it has opened up a whole new world for her.
The interesting thing is that Bassman is a Photoshop girl only—no Google or email for her. To see some of her work and to read more about her life, check out this article in the New York Times.
Now here’s something else that's cool. Did you know that you can paint using your iPhone? Apparently you download this program called Brushes, a low-priced software application that has a color picker, zooming, virtually unlimited undo and redo, and a set of realistic brushes. You can also export your paintings at high resolution (up to 1920 x 2880), and turn them into QuickTime movies. See the video below.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Art Journals & Creative Healing

I buy most of my books online because there are no bookstores in my neighborhood. And of course it doesn’t hurt that Amazon and Chapters have lower prices, which means you end up getting more books in the long run. The problem is you don’t always get the chance to look at the books you want first.
Take Art Journals & Creative Healing by Susan Soneff for example. The main reason I bought it was to finish off the amount on a gift card. Once the book arrived, I took a quick look at it and then set it aside.
Why? Because it looked like heavy-duty stuff to me and I’m usually in the mood for eye candy. As someone who has struggled with depression off and on for most of her adult life, I like to avoid the negative and just peace out. But for months now, Soneff’s book has been sitting around waiting for me to notice it, so I finally took a deep breath and plunged in.
Just as I suspected, there were plenty of soul-wrenching moments inside. Women with everything from anorexia and cancer, to depression and MS share their personal stories and journal entries. While there are visually moving pages here, and plenty of creative tips, the main emphasis is on being brave enough to chronicle your journey through words and images.
Even though journaling is used in clinical and therapeutic settings, and research supports the benefits, I have to admit I’m skeptical. I say this because writing in my journal allows me to vent, but I can’t say it helps me; it simply seems to be something I’m in the habit of doing.
However, it occurred to me while I was working through Soneff’s book that I’m in a rut. Like a hamster on her wheel, I do what I do and forget to focus on choices or different perspectives. In short, I don’t go that deeply into things when I journal, although it may seem like it when I’m upset.

I’ve thought quite a bit about this book since I finished it last week. In the next couple of days, I’ll be finishing off my current journal and I’ve decided that I need to take a different approach. I’m not sure what this will be, but I think it’s time to be more honest with myself, so I’ll let you know what happens.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Volleying Continues

Jeanne and I have been volleying in Photoshop for a couple of years now. We take turns altering a photo until we’ve reached the magic number ten, and then we start all over again.
We’ve been more off than on for months now mainly because life has been complicated for both of us. Even so, one of us always manages to pick up the ball and volley back at some point. I’m feeling pleased with myself that I managed to finish volley six of this round yesterday …only four more to go!
(I posted one and two of this round back at the end of February if you want to check them out. At this rate we should be finished by Christmas).

Sunday, July 05, 2009


Have you ever noticed that when an image rivets your attention, trying to express that feeling seems to elude you?
Take this doll for instance. Mary gave he/she/it to me last year and I find it weirdly captivating. I don’t know whether it’s the way the doll feels, its markings or even the hole in its head. Whatever is going on, I can’t make sense of it. I just know I’m hooked, and for months now, I’ve been moving the doll from assemblage to assemblage where it's always restless, and never quite at home.
I wondered what would happen if I took some pictures and then played with them in Photoshop. Well, no luck there either. I kept wishing that I had the Lennie gene and could at least have started the process with a decent photo.

But looking at the results now, I think the best approach would be to wrap the doll in some kind of fabric and just pretend something real was actually going on inside.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Rejuvenating Old Photos

One of the satisfying things about working in Photoshop is being able to give an old photo new life, or in some cases to repair the damage done by time and careless handling. My guess is that this picture of my Uncle Ken was taken in the early thirties, and the photographer hand-tinted the bird on his sweater and the grass in the background (which was probably green to begin with). After I’d scanned the photo and got it on-screen in Photoshop, I could see this “painting” was crudely done, but I decided not to alter the color, just brighten it up.
You will get some idea of the original state of Uncle Ken’s photo if you compare it to the one taken of my father at the same time (see below left). Restoring Dad’s childhood picture is probably the most difficult task I’ve attempted in Photoshop. The vertical creases through his face were really challenging to repair. I actually thought re-working the eye area would be the hardest, but it turned out to be the chin. Go figure.

The interesting thing about photo retouching is that each picture presents its own set of visual problems that need to be solved. While the tools to do this are available in Photoshop—I use the Clone Stamp and Spot Healing Brush tools the most—in the end it’s more about the moment-to-moment creative decisions you make than anything else.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Journaling and Memory

I rarely re-read entries I’ve made in my journal because I’ve found I don’t like what I’ve written—or more accurately, I don’t like to be reminded of the mood I was in at the time. I know some people use their journal to celebrate, but I tend to write in mine when I want to ponder the meaning of life, or to whine.
On the other hand, I don’t mind revisiting the art I’ve done—even if I don’t like it. My collages and drawings have their own kind of memory that has nothing to do with how I’m feeling about the events of my life at the time. In this journal I used dollar store paints for my backgrounds. It’s not the kind of paint I’d use on canvas because it’s too thin and has a chalky texture when it dries. But I’ve found it works just fine on the paper in a Moleskine sketchbook.

I like the two green pages below mainly because of the stamped dress. Anything paper-dollish appeals to me for some reason …maybe because I got so much pleasure from playing with paper dolls as a child.
What I remember about the red pages at the beginning of this post is how annoyed I was by the way they turned out. It was the first time I’d used a Copic marker and I really disliked how thickly I drew the lines around the map shapes. Normally I would have just obliterated what I’d done and started again. However, there’s something about being almost at the end of a journal that makes you anxious to finish it, so I let them be.
I think I was feeling much the same way when I did these last two pages of the journal. When in doubt, Stick in a Parrot is my motto. Well, not really. But what a parrot represents to me is Joseph Cornell (with maybe a splash of Monty Python?) In any case, if you have an image that appeals to you, just pop it in when you feel stuck. It may not do anything to improve what you’re working on, but at least you’ll feel good using it.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Weekend Play Spaces

I thought I’d show you some of the pictures I took yesterday when I was at my friend Bev’s for an art day. Six of us got together to play with alcohol inks on bamboo tiles, dominos and clear plastic—and later on, pouring UTEE into molds.
A few months ago Mary taught me how to make molds. I was really pleased with how they turned out at the time, and took them along to our playday. By the time we got to that point, though, my camera had run out of juice.
Because I’d posted photos earlier in the week of different art tables, I really noticed how people worked yesterday. Some were messy, some were neat, and still others (like me) seemed to swing wildly from one end of the spectrum to the other.
What I tend to do is to get messier and messier until I reach the point where I only have a postage stamp-sized space to work in. Then I regroup and start all over again in pristine surroundings. It’s obvious to me that 50 per cent of the time I spend creating involves tidying and sorting, 30 per cent involves trying to make decisions and the rest of the time I’m hands on.

(I really don’t like to think about how productive I’d be if I was (A) Neat (B) Decisive).

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

More Art Tables...

It just occurred to me now that I have other photos of art tables to share with you. To the right is Carin Brahm leaning on the stamping table that she shares with her cat Sammy. Below is a shot I took of Carmi's studio a couple of years ago. I know she has reorganized recently can read about it on her blog, but this photo will give you some idea of how industrious and inspired she always is.

Art tables

I wish someone would do a book on artist tabletops. Not only would each one be different, but I’m sure they’d also be inspiring—or at least satisfy some of that insatiable curiosity we have about other artists and their stuff.
I took this photo of Mary’s art table (see above) when I was up at her boat last summer. I love how she always has tons of stuff going, and yet it all ends up working together.

I got this shot of Anita and Brenda’s journals at Artfest. Brenda was working on a double-page spread of her experience in Susan Wooldridge’s poetry class, and I remember wishing I could draw as well as she does.

Jeanne sent me this picture of some of her pottery finds when she went mudlarking recently on the banks of the Thames. defines mudlarking as: Chiefly British: a person who gains a livelihood by searching for iron, coal, old ropes, etc., in mud or low tide. I used to call it “rooting around the beach hoping to find cool stuff,” but mudlarking sounds much more romantic to me. (You can read more about this on the Icons: a portrait of England website).

And finally, here’s a photo of my own art table, which John took last week. The mixed media piece I’m working on isn’t finished yet, but it’s definitely progressing. Just looking at the photo reminds me of that when I’m tempted to think nothing has “happened.”

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Soul of a Flower

It’s always a good day when you feel you’ve accomplished something creatively. What I find difficult, though, is working away for hours but having little to show for it—at least in a tangible sense. That’s certainly been the case with today, but I don’t feel disappointed. I think I’m finally beginning to understand that there has to be an in-working before there’s an out-working. And furthermore, the process keeps reinventing itself in different ways.
While I was playing in Photoshop tonight with these photos John took this afternoon, I started thinking about how I amazed I am when our flowers actually bloom every spring. For maybe 51 weeks of the year they’re getting ready for this. Then they do their thing, peak and start all over again. The funny thing is, the same plant seems to produce blooms with a different personality each year. Like this pink poppy for instance. This year you can see the carpals and stamens through the petals, and the effect is like looking at a tiny soul cradled inside each bloom. I can see now why people become addicted to painting flowers and I know I could stay up all night doing this. (If you’re working in Photoshop, I would recommend experimenting with the Dry Brush, Palette Knife, Paint Daubs and Water Paper filters).

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Empty or Spacious?

I spent some time looking through my journal tonight because I felt too lazy to do anything creative. I’d never realized it before, but some of my pages look kind of empty …as if they wanted me to add something to them and I’d forgotten to.
On the other hand, why should I add something just for the sake of adding something? In the parrot spread above, the pink flower is a transfer done on Japanese paper that Mary showed me how to do back in February. After I glued it down, I kept adding things until it looked done and then I stopped.
Is the right hand page on this lilac spread empty or spacious? Hmmm. I keep changing my mind about this. I have a feeling I won’t be adding anything to it though. Some things are just better left as a question mark.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Saturday Night

Tonight I talked on the phone to my sister Pam about romance novels, created this ATC in Photoshop, and then played several intense games of Tetris to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the game’s invention.
I’ve been a Tetris fanatic for about fifteen years now, and it’s the greatest time waster ever. I usually play on my vintage Game Boy, but since the batteries are drained, I had to go online instead.
Tetris is the only game I play and I’m addicted to it. I’ve always felt guilty about this and a little embarrassed too. Tetris is the kind of game you associate with nerdy teenage boys and the movie Hackers. My family thinks my Tetris habit is hilarious, but the weird thing is that with all the practice I’ve had playing it over the years, I’ve actually become really good at it.
Aside from wasting time in an absorbing manner, is there any purpose to playing Tetris? I didn’t think so until I read an article about an Oxford University experiment which found that Tetris reduces post-traumatic stress syndrome.
I’ve gone off track here because what I meant to write about is: How come it’s Saturday night and everyone I know is either on the computer or watching TV? In other words: what ever happened to date night?
Not that I’m complaining. Back in the 70s I received the Antisocial Person of the Year Award from my group of friends. As my boyfriend at the time explained it: “Susan’s idea of a really good time is reading a book.”
I never felt like I had to be out socializing just because I was supposed to …although I do remember going to the movies one Saturday night on my own, and then running into the guy I was dating with another girl. I made a point of going over and saying “hi” to them just to see the look on his face.

In retrospect, it must have been this traumatic event which eventually led me to Game Boy, and the healing power of Tetris on a Saturday night.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Photoshop Magic

The New York Times ran an article a week ago called Smile and Say ‘No Photoshop. It basically focuses on how magazines have gone overboard with digital enhancement. Thanks to the Photoshop wizards who work their magic on models that are already gorgeous, pimples can be removed, teeth whitened and hips whittled.
But Kate Winslet wasn’t happy with the result when she posed for British GQ a few years back. She complained the cover photo didn’t look like her because her legs had been Photoshop-ed to look longer and skinnier.
In a recent issue of French Elle, Sophie Marceau appears on the front cover without make up or any digital tinkering. She looks fabulous of course, although it seems sad to me the magazine has to tell us that nothing has been done. Should we consider everything is inauthentic unless we’re told otherwise? And where do you draw the line?
I gave Emma’s boyfriend Bryan this picture of them for his birthday, and I must say Photoshop came in very handy here. I combined three different photographs to come up with a composite that worked. But I didn’t remove any blemishes or whiten any teeth. I try and avoid doing this for the most part, even though I’d be tempted to fix myself up if I was working on a picture with me in it.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Art and the economy

My father told me a couple of weeks ago that he has no plans to cut back on his spending because he thinks spending is good for the economy. I’ve wondered about his words off and on ever since because practically everyone else I know has cut back.
When people tighten their belts, artists, writers, musicians, dancers and so on feel the pinch first. In a way it’s understandable because we tend to think of engaging in creative pursuits or buying their “products” as a luxury. But this makes life challenging if you’re a member of the clan.
At the moment I’m attempting to stockpile art for my show in the fall, so I haven’t been trying to sell anything. But I must admit I’m worried about what the economy will be like in October, and whether or not people will buy anything then.
One thing I can definitely say is that I am getting fewer writing projects from mainstream publications now. The number of magazines is declining, and those still publishing are opting for shorter articles. When you get paid by the word as I usually do, this is discouraging. Some magazines haven’t changed their rate for a decade, and others have even lowered it. There are also publishers who use what’s happening in the economy as an excuse to take advantage of freelancers.
Recently I received an email about writing a 500-word technical article that would have paid me $10. No, this isn’t a misprint. The editor’s thinking was that I could re-sell my writing. While I have done this in the past, it can take months of networking to find a new market, and editors naturally don’t want to pay you what you received for the original article.
When you’re dependent on freelance work and selling art for your financial survival like I am, it’s easy to feel fearful. But you have to work at overcoming this because it’s crucial to cultivate resilience. I decided yesterday that what I needed was an image to look at while I worked …an image that would remind me to stay positive and to be proactive—instead of focusing on the negative, as I’m prone to do.
I immediately thought of the angel wing I’d bought from Colette Copeland back in February and I put it right in front of my computer. Every time I looked at Colette’s creation today, I smiled. Engaging in this activity makes me feel much better than reading yet another depressing report about the state of the economy (and then dwelling on it).

Who says art is a luxury? In my opinion, I believe it’s a necessity.