Wednesday, November 23, 2016

"We wants it. We needs it. Must have the precious."


My precious secret yarn stash in the light of day!

I have a secret stash of yarn. Not my main stash that I work with and not even my secondary stash that I save for special projects, but a super 'most-secret-ever!' luxury stash that I don't even tell myself about.

It lives in a paper Trader Joe's bag in the darkest corner of the yarn closet. Yes, that is an entire double closet dedicated to yarn. Inside the bag are my most sumptuous treasures. Mohairs. Alpacas. Shiny hemp. Wools that friends have scavenged for me from exotic places. Undyed beauties of incredible softness. Their luminous lengths glow dimly in the dark reaches of the yarn closet and, in my mind, I fondle and stroke them like Tolkein's Gollum. ("It came to me. My own. My love. My own. My precious.")

A few years ago, Doug and I decided to use our 'good' stuff. We eat from the good dishes daily. I drink tea from my Grandma's tea cups. Our bed is covered with antique quilts. It seemed pointless to always be saving the best things for a special occasion that might never arrive.

Flows Like Water (Harrison Park Series) - 12 x 12 x 1.5, Peruvian Highland Wool and Beeswax on Birch

So, when I decided to take a mental break from the Harrison Park series and seek some immediate gratification, it was in this spirit that I dug out the Trader Joe's bag and spilled its riches across my work table. Glowing creams, glossy blacks, softest grays and browns studded with rich jewel tones. Here was treasure indeed. It was time to give battle to my covetous nature and share my precious with the world.

But what to do with it? 

It needed to be quick - a series of small pieces to give me the sense of completion missing from the longer Harrison Park series. 

I remembered how much I enjoyed working on Pebble, so perhaps a dig through the trove of shells and pebbles collected in my travels was in order.

Sea Shell - Luxurious Textures Series, 6 x 6 x 1.5, Wool & Beeswax on Birch Panel

Once I started selecting little bits of beauty to focus on, I had a lot of fun. Working directly from an object always results in something unexpected.

Snail Shell - Luxurious Textures Series, 6 x 6 x 1.5, Alpaca, Wool, Hemp & Beeswax on Birch Panel

Each object is included in a little gift bag tucked into the back of the piece. I like to think that this series might give someone else a chance to reflect on the mysterious beauty of small, natural wonders.

Pine Cone - Luxurious Textures Series, 6 x 6 x 1.5, Alpaca, Wool, & Beeswax on Birch Panel 

I named the resulting series The Luxurious Textures Series as a nod to both my secret stash of luxury yarns and the investigation of the surface textures of small, found natural objects.


Mussel Shell - Luxurious Textures Series, 6 x 6 x 1.5, Hemp, Cotton, and Beeswax on Birch Panel

Immediate gratification satisfied, I am ready to go back to the longer term commitment of the Harrison Park series. Two more square foot pieces to go and then I'm on the big stuff!


Pink Sea Shell - Luxurious Textures Series, 6 x 6 x 1.5, Alpaca, Wool, Hemp & Beeswax on Birch Panel

Before I go, a great big thank you to the fabulous group that came out for our workshop at the delicious St. Jacobs EcoCafe in November.


There were a number of members from the K-W Weavers' and Spinners' Guild there and the quality of the work was magnificent.



As usual, I learned as much as I taught and we had a lively discussion of in depth colour theory and the Munsell colour system. Thank you, ladies, and I may still be in touch to borrow those books!



With holidays and the year's end in view, I find myself ruminating on the great riches life has brought me - love, warmth, abundance - and thinking it is so fragile and temporary.

May you enjoy the 'good stuff' now and make use of your treasures while you are able to enjoy them!


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Spinning the Story of the Wixárika Culture

Untitled / José Benítez Sánchez
Untitled, 2005, José Benítez Sánchez. Acrylic yarn, beeswax, wood. Fowler Museum at UCLA, X2013.12.1. Gift of Ronald Lanyi
I was excited to read this article about The Spun Universe, an exhibition of Huichol yarn paintings on display at UCLA's Fowler Museum. 

Although my own artistic practice is related to the Huichol's only in that we use similar materials, I think their work is vivid and striking. I learned a lot from Enlow's article that I am grateful to know.  For instance, the Huichol are from Western Mexico and are also known as the Wixárika. Their yarn paintings are called nierakate and are representations of sacred Peyote fueled visions.

I first learned about the Huichol (or Wixárika) during an online search for yarn adhesive. As my practice with fibre art/wool paintings/yarn paintings had deepened, their work has come up over and over again. Fascinating!

On another note, the next yarn painting workshop at the EcoCafe in St. Jacobs is on November 8th, which is fast approaching. If you want to join us for gourmet coffee and fun with cozy wool, reserve your spot through the Silo Weavers.

Feliz Dia De Los Muertos and Happy Hallowe'en, folks!

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Buzzard Tree, Solo Exhibitions, and a New Workshop. Oh My!

The Buzzard Tree, Peruvian Wool and Beeswax on Birch Panel, 12" x 12" x 1.5"

Few words are as fun to say as 'buzzard'.  Especially if you give it a nice rural twang - buhzerd.

The third square foot piece in my Harrison Park series is finished and is named 'The Buzzard Tree.' Why? Because there are buzzards in the tree. You just can't see them.


Detail of The Buzzard Tree  - White in white on white. Playing with texture.

One morning while camping,  I crawled out of our tent and looked up to see the sky dark with large, ominous looking...um...vultures? Buzzards? They wheeled slowly overhead for half an hour and then they all settled silently into the branches of this tree. The Buzzard Tree.

I grabbed my phone and tiptoed under the tree to take some shots but when we got home I discovered that, although I had lots of shots of the tree, I didn't get a single image of a bird. Creepy!

So, as I say, the buzzards are there. You just can't see them. Weird.


The Buzzard Tree - but where are the buzzards?

The Harrison Park series is progressing (almost) on schedule and now, the next phase of the plan has started to take shape.

I have been selected to mount a solo exhibition of my work in the Rotunda Gallery of Kitchener City Hall in August 2017. This is really exciting and exactly what I was hoping for. The Rotunda Gallery was one of my favourite haunts when I lived in downtown Kitchener.

I have also been shortlisted for a solo exhibition in the Blyth Festival Art Gallery next year and hope to hear the results soon.

I love it when a plan comes together!

On October 5, I am giving an artist talk to the very talented members of the Kitchener-Waterloo Weavers' and Spinners' Guild and, also, there's a new workshop coming up. See the flyer below for details.

Mmmm...cozy wool and gourmet roasted coffee in November. I can't wait.


Take adult colouring to a new level with fibre art yarn painting. Join local fibre artist, Kathy White, for this fun workshop that is part art therapy, part colour theory and entirely creative expression. Participants are provided with everything they need to design and take home their own unique 5 x 7 yarn painting using wool yarn and fragrant beeswax. Kathy discusses techniques for applying the yarn to beeswaxed panels to create different effects. Participants will have a choice of colours and techniques to make their work truly one of a kind.
Visit www.kathywhiteart.com to learn more about Kathy’s work.
Date - Tuesday, November 8, 2016
Time - 1 pm - 4 pm
(at the silos - enter through the ramp entrance off the parking lot as the cafe will be open, but the shops don't open until 10 am)
Fee - $50, includes all materials and a complimentary beverage from the Eco-Cafe
Space is limited to 12 people.
Reserve your spot now by contacting:
The Silo Weavers
1441 King St N, St. Jacobs, ON N0B 2N0
(519) 664-2421      elsa@siloweavers.ca

Friday, September 2, 2016

Slogging August and a Bright New September


Sydenham Study, 12" x 12" x 1.5", Peruvian Wool and Beeswax on Birch Panel

From the way most people live, one would never guess that humans are beings of free will. Repetition can be a choice, but often it isn't. The athlete or pianist who practices the same routine day after day, year after year, has their eye on a goal. The unending repetition is a conscious choice in the pursuit of a life dream. But what about the sameness of most lives? Observe the morning commute, the after-work drink, the Sunday football game or religious service - how many of those people are consciously following their dream, training their mind, body, and spirit through that daily repetition? And how many are mindlessly slogging through each day out of habit and boredom? Jonathan Lockwood Huie
What an August it has been! The word 'slogging' comes to mind and led me to the above quote, which describes nicely the question I kept asking myself on days when my daily routine - go for a walk, do yoga, work on artwork, practice basic hygiene - seemed an insurmountable task. Maybe it was the grueling heat. Maybe it was life happening while I was busy making other plans. Maybe it was a karmic challenge that I haven't yet learned how to deal with and therefore insists on recurring. Whatever it was, there were days in August when my admittedly pleasant schedule seemed impossible to achieve and I found myself asking why I was trying. Slogging. Running uphill.

Okay, so August was a little funky for me.

Happily, September always follows August and ushers in a new phase with new projects and new energy. Already things are looking up. The past two wonderfully cool days have literally brought a breath of fresh air and I successfully finished a piece and met a deadline I was aiming for. Woo hoo.

Harrison Park in July (Study), 12" x 12" x 1.5". Peruvian Wool and Beeswax on Birch Panel

Currently, I am working on a series of pieces inspired by our summer camping trip to Harrison Park in Owen Sound, ON. My goal is to complete 6 preliminary square foot pieces using a uniform gauge of yarn and then select at least 4 of those to revisit on 3 foot square panels, taking advantage of the larger scale to work in greater detail and more varied yarn gauge and texture.

I am really exited about this project for a number of reasons, some of which are:

  1. It is the first time I have deliberately revisited an image, capitalizing on the lessons I learned from my first kick at the can. I anticipate it will allow me to learn and improve, creating works with deeper understanding of the challenges in capturing the subject.
  2. Although I have done a series of cherry blossom pieces, this is my first time trying to capture the essence of a place in a group of pieces. I am trying to demonstrate what touches me about the park and makes it meaningful.
  3. The two preliminary pieces that I have finished so far are different from my previous work and I think they show a growth in skill and confidence.
  4. This is the first time I have set out to create an exhibition of my work. Behind the scenes. I am applying to calls for submissions and honing my skills in describing my work and artist's statement. Not my favourite thing to do but I become more comfortable talking about my artwork each time I do it.
Side detail of Sydenham Study - one of the preliminary pieces to be worked into a larger, more detailed and varied piece. I love the feeling of motion in the water detail.

Before I can fully leave the summer behind, I want to share a few bright moments. 

Sue from the summer workshop emailed me this photo of her fabulous finished project. I feel like a proud parent!

Sue's finished workshop project. I love it!

And I received some publicity in Eleanor Petrie's article and photographs published in Canadian Quilter's August 2016 magazine. Thanks, Eleanor!

So - out with August and in with September. May cooler days and changing seasons breathe new life into your routine and your creative projects too!


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Pebble, Winter Meadow, and Summer Experiments

A close up of the Sydenham as it rushed past our campsite. Great music for sleeping. Photo by Kathy White.
Earlier this summer, Doug and I treated ourselves to a camping and hiking trip in Owen Sound, ON. It sounds odd to camp in a city but Harrison Park feels like a secret world, tucked into a tall, green forest and bordered by the Sydenham River. Hiking trails lead directly out of the campground and you can clamber over mossy rocks and little streams, all the way to Inglis Falls.

I haven't camped in awhile and I was surprised at the feeling of coming home that it gave me. Have you ever experienced that feeling - almost like remembering who you are?

The scenery made for some great, 'classic Ontario' photos and I came home motivated to do a series that pays tribute to this area. The photo above is my inspiration for the first piece, already in the works. I love the way you can trace the flow of the river in this composition.

Winter Meadow, Peruvian Wool and Beeswax on Birch Panel, 9" x 12" x 1.5"
I finally finished 'Winter Meadow', which has been my 'in between' project over the winter, spring and summer. If any of you came by my exhibition at the St. Jacobs Quilt and Fibre Art Festival, this was the piece I was working on. Thank you to the many people I consulted about sky colour.  You were right - the grey does show off the brighter grasses in the foreground.

Pebble, Aran Weight Wool and Beeswax on Birch Panel, 8" x 8" x 1.5"
Commissioned pieces force me to try something new. 'Pebble' was done by request and I had a lot of fun with it. Whenever we travel to a place I connect with (like Harrison Park), I bring home a small pebble to add to a collection that lives in my yoga space. Over time, I forget where each one is from and they become interesting objects in their variety and individuality. One of those pebbles was the model for 'Pebble'.
(Hey Diana - do you recognize some of your yarn stash? Thanks again!)

Betty's workshop piece in progress. I love the colours and the birds!
Finally, we had another great group show up for our July workshop at the EcoCafe in St. Jacobs. I've said it before and it holds true - fibre people are good people. I witness so many acts of kindness between strangers when I hover on the edges while people work on their pieces. Thanks to everyone who participated and, again, I'd love to see your finished pieces!

What a great setting for a fibre art workshop!
Special thanks to the very accommodating people at the EcoCafe for generously allowing us to use their gorgeous space for our workshop and also for the free refills!  The cafe was a cool refuge on a hot day and kept us fueled with yummy treats.

Thanks as well to the Silo Weavers for getting word out about the workshop, handling registration, and for all of the ongoing, fantastic support.

Helene's pretty workshop piece in progress.
It's been a hot summer here and I'm starting to long for cooler autumn weather with cozy hand-knit sweaters. But not right away. Give me just a little more time for Frisbee and barbecues, early morning sunshine, and afternoons too hot to do anything except find a cool spot to stretch out and read a very good book.

Happy Summer, Everyone!
Agnieszka's workshop piece in progress. The first mandala!







Thursday, July 7, 2016

Grandma's Garden

Grandma's Garden, 9" x 12" x 1.5", Embroidery cotton, beeswax, fabric, and acrylic paint on birch panel.
Grandma Mitchell loved to laugh. She had a kind heart and seemed to understand that being a kid wasn't easy. After watching me in any kind of event at all, like a school play or public speaking competition, she would shove a tightly rolled up bill into my hand and tell me to buy myself something special. Later, I would unfold the unexpected five or ten dollar bill and wonder at her generosity.

Every weekday afternoon, after Grandpa's lunch was cleared away and he was either stretched out napping or headed back out to the barn, Grandma would sit down in her upholstered rocker, turn on her afternoon soaps and reach for whatever needlework was in her work basket at the moment. Often, it was something for one of her grandchildren.

Detail of Grandma's Garden.
One Christmas she gave us all crocheted snow man puppets. For one of my birthdays, she gave me a crocheted fish soap-on-a-rope with an extra fancy Avon soap inside. She also embroidered pillow cases and quilted. She made quilts for every single one of her grandchildren and even a few great grandchildren before she passed away.

When I inherited Grandma's embroidery flosses, handfuls of vivid colour kept in an exotic looking old fruit cake tin, I knew I had to do something special with them but I didn't know what. The tin sat half buried under fabrics and yarns on my highly organized (ahem) studio shelves waiting for an epiphany. And waiting. And waiting...

Grandma's Garden, 9" x 12" x 1.5", Embroidery cotton, beeswax, fabric, and acrylic paint on birch panel.
In my last workshop, I told the group about the tin of embroidery floss. We were talking about the different kinds of materials you could use in 'yarn painting', and I mentioned that I wanted to use Grandma's embroidery threads but didn't think I could do something that fine. I also mentioned that I wanted to try incorporating sections of fabric into the beeswaxed surface. After the workshop, I replayed the conversation on my head, looking at my stash of favourite fabrics and the tin half buried on the shelf.  I felt the stirrings of an idea. What if...what if...what if....Eureka!

Grandma's Garden is the first product of that epiphantic moment and combines both of the ideas I had been wanting to try. There is a layer of fabric sandwiched between layers of beeswax and I've used Grandma's embroidery cotton to accent and play with the fabric print. The overall effect reminds me of richly embroidered chinoisery textiles.  In places, the fabric's design peeks through unaltered.

Detail of Grandma's Garden - See the fabric design peeking through the main rose?
Unlike my wool pieces, sections of the beeswax surface are left uncovered. There's lots of room for experimentation with this method and I intend to return to it and complete a block of embroidery themed pieces.

Grandma Mitchell loved pretty things. She embroidered birds, butterflies, and flowers with the very same threads I've used in this piece. I think she'd like it.

There's a twinge of sadness that comes whenever I see yarns, embroidery flosses, hoops and needles in a second hand store. You just know they were someone's coveted treasures once. I wish I could rescue them all.

This is a good place to start.

Grandma's Garden, 9" x 12" x 1.5", Embroidery cotton, beeswax, fabric, and acrylic paint on birch panel.

Monday, June 20, 2016

New Workshop! Date - Tuesday, July 26th Time - 9 am - 12 noon at the Eco Cafe in St. Jacobs

Did you miss the workshop during the quilt festival? You're not alone. I had so many people say that they wished they had taken it that I'm running another one - this time in the yummy Eco-Cafe at the silos in St. Jacobs. Here are the details:

Take adult colouring to a new level with fibre art yarn painting. Join local fibre artist, Kathy White, for this fun workshop that is part art therapy, part colour theory and entirely creative expression. Participants are provided with everything they need to design and take home their own unique mini-mandala using wool yarn and fragrant beeswax. Kathy discusses techniques for applying the yarn to beeswaxed panels to create different effects. Participants will have a choice of colours and techniques to make their work truly one of a kind.
Date - Tuesday, July 26th
Time - 9 am - 12 noon
(at the silos - enter through the ramp entrance off the parking lot as the cafe will be open, but the shops don't open until 10 am)
Fee - $50, includes all materials and a complimentary beverage from the Eco-Cafe

elsa@siloweavers.ca

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Thank You, St. Jacobs!

The unique atmosphere created by exhibiting in a former silo.
What an amazing time I had last week at the Quilt and Fibre Art Festival Waterloo Region and Beyond! As an artist, I spend a lot of time alone in my studio, which is actually pretty great. But I also love to venture out into the world to meet fellow fibre enthusiasts and share ideas. There were masses of inspiring people at the festival this year and I had so many touching, educational conversations that I came home both happily exhausted and charged up to jump back into creating.

My week began with leading a Yarn Painting workshop on Tuesday.  Each of the participants received a pre-waxed canvas board, a 'poking tool', and a choice of coloured wools.

Colour theory meets workshop wool.
We talked about colour theory, inspiration, and techniques and then everyone jumped in and started their first 'yarn painting.' It was wonderful to watch the diverse visions emerge on canvas.

Workshop friends with their creations started.
Special thanks to Judy Martin and Koren Bell from Quilter's Nine Patch for organizing the workshop and the ladies from the St. Jacobs Mennonite Church for making us at home in your lovely library.

For the rest of the week, I was at the silos as the Silo Weavers' guest contemporary fibre artist for the festival. Elsa Brigden Elliott, owner of the Silo Weavers, demonstrated her expert eye for colour, design and ingenuity as she helped to hang my work for a solo exhibition in a former grain silo.

Sales were fantastic and we had to do some quick rearranging as the week progressed to keep the exhibition stocked.

View through the silo doors.
It is a powerful experience to watch people react to my work and discuss the process with them. I am always, always touched by the kindness and encouragement that floods my way and I hope that learning about what I do sparks an idea for someone else too.

Me in the silo with my demonstration piece and new product - cards.
Thank you, Elsa and Pat, for all of your help and enthusiasm. What a great experience!

Finally, the very biggest thank you to my husband, Doug, whose support as an art hanger, workshop participant, bathroom break manager, emotional counsellor, lunch maker, beer tester, sales manager and official photographer made him a festival legend in his own right.

Doug's brilliant workshop piece.
I met rug hookers, quilters, weavers, sewers, knitters, crocheters, embroiderers, painters, actors, enthusiasts, organizers, journalists and so much more. Every conversation was a gift and chance meetings can have unexpected results. Many thanks to Diana B. who was inspired to donate her wools to me after seeing my work.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by the exhibition and one last big special thank you to those who purchased my work. It means a lot when they find homes where they will be cherished.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

DIY Art Class: Fun with Colour

A basket full of colour
Back in January, when I was knee deep in yearly planning, I set three goals to explore as an artist.

1) Improve my understanding of colour.
2) Improve my understanding of composition.
3) Strive to infuse my work with more personal expression/interpretation.

That pretty much covers everything, doesn't it?

Maybe I'm a geek with my lists and my planning. I don't always accomplish everything I plan, either. But I can say with certainty that I get more done and get closer to my goals when I have a plan (and a list) than when I don't. Plus, it gives me some illusion of control in a chaotic world...but that's a discussion for another day.

Back to the list in question. Item one. Improve my understanding of colour.

My home made colour wheel. Note the confusion over where to draw the line between warm and cool colours. The jury is still out. I learned a lot doing this!
Searching the internet for resources, I found an intriguing exercise for painting called Colour: Get to grips with balance and contrast when painting. It seemed like a good place to start, so I bookmarked it and returned to it as I began my pieces for the year.

The first assignment is to create a piece in a monochromatic colour scheme, using different values of a single colour.

Variations on a single colour.
I was beginning Gratitude for Abundance at the time and wanted to create a sense of exuberance that I wasn't sure would work with a monochromatic palette, so I skipped ahead to step 2 to work with an analogous colour scheme instead. An analogous colour scheme uses three or more colours that are adjacent on the colour wheel.  Gratitude for Abundance is worked in an analogous colour scheme of blue-green/green/yellow-green that veers into yellow and even yellow-orange for detail.

Analogous blue-green/green/yellow-green colour scheme.
Next on my To Do list was a series of smaller pieces, so I used them as an opportunity to explore step 3 of my colour assignment: a composition in a complementary colour scheme. Complementary colours are opposite each other on the colour wheel.

Colour Study #1, 5 " x 7 " x 1.5", Yellow/Violet Colour Scheme
Colour Study #1 was my first complementary colour scheme exercise, using yellow and violet.

Colour Study #2, 5" x 7" x 1.5", Blue-Green/Red-Orange Colour Scheme
Colour Study #2 uses the complementary tertiary colours blue-green and red-orange.

Step 4 in my colour assignment is to execute a piece in split-complementary colours, so instead of using the colour directly across the colour wheel, you use the two colours on either side of it.

My brain gets easily bored, however, and I also wanted to explore the psychological properties of colour. I've been tossing around this idea of 'Zen Art'; pieces that are meditative for me to create and meditative for the viewer to observe. I knew colour would play a large part in this. Green, not surprisingly, gives us feelings of harmony, balance, and peace. Using green as my starting point, my split complementary colour scheme would be green, red-orange, and red-violet.

Here is what I chose to work with:

Green/Red-Orange/Red-Violet Yarns
The result is named The Sunny Day.

The Sunny Day, 9" x 12" x 1.5", Green/Red-Orange/Red-Violet Colour Scheme
Which brings me up to date. I still owe the universe a monochromatic piece and I've got one more split complementary piece to finish up. Then I'm on to exploring triads!

Overall, this has already been a great exercise and I highly recommend it for anyone interested in brushing up on colour theory. It seems elementary, but my pieces are obviously strengthened by good use of colour.

Now we are a third of the way through the year and I am ready to add my second artistic goal into the mix. Improve my understanding of composition. I'll let you know how it goes!