The weather this month is proving to be exactly what we expect from March: sun, cloud, rain, snow, wind, fog, usually changing several times a day. Remember this? I showed you this photo two weeks ago.
And here it is today.
Only the barest trace of snow remains in the shaded north sides of the hill. And isn't that a magnificent storm cloud?
We had thunder a few days ago! Lots of visual drama in the sky.
In other news . . . I've been wondering whether the universe is trying to send me a message. But I have to back up to explain.
I've been in full-speed mode the past few days, taking advantage of spring break to take a long, hard look at my studio, what I want to achieve there, and what I want to share with the world. Step one is a major overhaul of the studio. I've had my studio for about fourteen years, and it's been my refuge, my favourite place, my inspiration, and my work space for all that time. It began as a small (tiny) house that once sat on the south side of our property: long before I met my dear husband, he hauled it across the field and placed it across the driveway from the house. For many years it was his family's sanity-saver through the adolescent years of his son and two step-sons, a place where they could hang out, play music all night, and get up to all the mayhem to which teenage boys are prone. By the time my dh and I both had our first marriages behind us, had found one another, and (after several years) moved back onto this property, the little house was in rough shape. But with all the interior walls removed, its potential as a studio was plain to me. I set to and ripped out the particleboard covering the wooden walls (no insulation in this space, even now) and with the hired help of one of dh's friends, I set about making it into a habitable and welcoming space. We recovered the walls in panel board, erected a much-needed structural post in the middle of the building, put down a new floor, and turned the sleeping loft into storage. Then I gave the whole thing, floor included, four coats of paint. After the work was all finished, I can remember my dad, himself quite an accomplished artist back in the day, sitting peacefully in an armchair in the middle of this light-filled empty space, so pleased that I had this lovely space in which to work.
And it was a lovely space to begin with. But over the years of waiting for my life as an artist to begin, teaching at UBC and slowly realizing that I wasn't as in love with the academy as I'd thought, becoming more and more sure that my dh (who wasn't yet my dh) was where my heart lay, I fed my dreams of having a studio by acquiring quite a lot of materials with which to make art. Fabric, of course, but also all sorts of other things: upholstery scraps and samples, beads and buttons, ribbons and other notions, dozens of offcuts of mat board from a local framing company, quite a lot of knitting yarn, and most notably a whole lot of stuff from Urban Source, about which I've written before, the small but fascinating Vancouver store that offers industrial waste to artists. Among those finds from Urban Source, I accumulated a host of things:
★ costume jewelry
★ accessories parts (such as hundreds of belt buckles and findings for purses and bags)
★ bits of metal whose purpose I'll never know but that appealed to me just because of their shininess and unusual shapes
★ beautiful paper scraps from local printers
★ movie film canisters
★ circular cardboard forms used by bakeries as cake bases
★ formica samples in wonderful colours
★ pieces of clear plastic and acrylic from which to make templates
★ hundreds and hundreds of small circles of rubber for making printing blocks and for backing picture frames
★ colourful wire
★ samples of coloured grout in nifty little aluminum troughs about three inches long
★ pieces of wood to use as the bases and handles for printing blocks
★ samples of umbrella fabrics (vivid colours and patterns)
★ yards and yards of metallic foil leftover from printing processes that added foil accents to stationery
★ hundreds of film canisters, both black and clear (now THAT was a smart thing to buy, since they're so rare these days: I use them to collect sharps such as used needles and cutting blades so that they don't end up loose in the trash)
★ stickers of all kinds, again leftover from printers
★ fridge magnets with colourful images glued to the front
★ sequin waste
★ leather scraps
★ empty cd cases
★ wool suiting samples
★ ribbons of all descriptions
★ pieces of balsa wood for making lanterns and kites
★ the negative shapes of salmon that a printer had cut from card stock (these became my patterns for the Salmon Quilt I showed you last week)
★ lengths of wool felt in wonderful colours, leftovers from a dramatic production
★ a thick stack of wallpaper samples
Do you get the idea? And these are just SOME of the things I brought home! Many of these things are now long gone (after a few years, even I could see that coloured grout in aluminum troughs wasn't likely to be useful to me, and the wallpaper all went to a local school for art projects). But the perusal and purchase of these things was tremendous fodder for dreaming of a life that had room for art and in that sense they were worth every penny (not that any of this cost very much) because they kept the dream alive. Eventually the dream became reality. In the meantime, my pixie-sized apartment in Vancouver (all 400 square feet of it) became crammed with bins containing all of these treasures. One striking memory from this time in my life was the moment when a UBC colleague's partner, looking around my apartment, said, "Anne, this looks a lot more like the home of an artist than the home of an academic." I was thrilled.
But once I moved into my studio, having lovingly transported all of these finds from Vancouver, I found that I didn't stop collecting the raw materials of art. Soon after moving into my studio, for example, I stumbled across Kaffe Fassett's magnificent book on mosaics (written with Candace Bahouth) and I was enraptured by the thought that I too might be able to create objects of such beauty as the examples Fassett showed in his book. So the hunt was on not just for ceramic tiles but for all manner of crockery as well. I hadn't been aware of the strong tradition of using such humble materials as plates, cups and saucers, mugs, teapots, pretty much anything ceramic in a style of mosaic called pique assiette. I loved the recycling element involved, the mashing together of disparate materials, the intensity of colour in a lot of the crockery. Needless to say, the studio began to fill up even more with my thrift store and yard sale finds. I made some mosaics: a trivet, some flower pots, some mirror surrounds, some tableau on plywood, even a tabletop for which my dh built an elegant metal frame and legs. Some of them I sold. But after a while I began to realize that there were parts of working this way that I didn't like: I didn't like how scratched up my hands became and I didn't like the shards of ceramic all over my studio table and floors, especially given that the dogs and cats wanted to be in the studio with me. And I didn't like working with grout: I never seemed to get the proportion of water to powdered grout right, and some of my mosaics have fallen apart over the years. I decided that much as I love the look of the medium, I wasn't happy working in it. So with the help of my friend Faye one afternoon a few years ago, I parcelled up all the crockery, filling about twenty cardboard boxes in the process, and took the whole works to the thrift shop. I hope the shop made money on them. I could almost feel the studio heave a sigh of relief with the absence of the weight of all that crockery. The rest of my materials and supplies I sold to a local woman who wanted to get started in the medium. And that was the end of mosaics for me.
But not the end of acquiring stuff for the studio. At this point, I knew that I wanted to concentrate on textiles. And I was interested in just about everything to do with textiles. So I continued to acquire all sorts of them, particularly at thrift shops and yard sales. And it's only now that I'm prepared to admit that quilting is my medium and that natural fibres are my preferred materials. And thus, this weekend the textiles that don't fit are going out the door in the hopes that someone else can use them.
I'm saying goodbye to the following:
★ all that felt
★ the umbrella fabric samples
★ most of the remaining upholstery scraps and samples (originally, I thought I'd use them to make pillows and tote bags to sell: I've made several of both, and have realized that I don't want to make any more)
★ anything shiny, including lamé, glittery sequin-y things, and anything with metallic thread
★ almost all the velvet and velveteen
★ almost all the sheers, including window curtains and shower curtains (I kept a few pieces of organza yardage)
★ all the netting and nearly all the tulle (not to mention odd things such as onion bags and window screening)
★ all the ribbon
★yardage of wool and wool blends that I will never make into the skirts and jackets I intended them for
★ yardage of rayon, and synthetic blends I will never make into skirts
★ a massive quantity, a big bin's worth, of rayon scraps and dismantled rayon clothes
And a lot of non-textile things too, such as:
★ thousands of plastic beads
★ those accessories findings
★ the last boxes of grout that for some reason I'd been hanging on to (just in case)
★ the last things i thought I might some day decorate with mosaics, namely some trays and a circular trivet
And here is what has prompted all this activity in the first place. Last weekend, I tried to see my studio through someone else's eyes and suddenly I could see exactly what my dh means when he says, as he does every now and again, "I couldn't work in this space." And perhaps you can see it too. This is what the studio has looked like lately and this level of chaos is not unusual. I call this series of photos my gallery of shame.
How did this happen?? My lovely, serene space has turned into a nightmare! (The only spot of serenity is Winston, happily grooming his tail on top of a cat bed on the highest bookshelf.)
I'm happy to report that I'm well on the way to restoring my studio to a space in which I can work peacefully and productively. Last weekend my dh and I found three pieces of furniture at the second-hand store that will provide lots of much-needed storage and free me from the ugly necessity for some, at least, of the plastic bins. (Even the presence of Winston isn't enough to keep my studio mouse free.) And it's the need to make way for the furniture that has prompted my burst of activity in weeding out and giving away or recycling (and, when necessary, taking to the dump) the things in this room that are holding me back and crowding me in.
But there is such a thing as trying too hard. I know I should be using spring break to take time for myself, to rest and relax and recover from a challenging winter. But instead I've been pushing myself, foregoing the naps and the yoga in favour of frenzied activity. And here's the message-from-the-universe part: the only reason I have time to sit and write this post today is that this afternoon I stepped out of the studio to bang the dust out of some buckets, stumbled on the grass because I wasn't watching where I was going, and twisted my ankle pretty comprehensively. Of course I fell over, but not on the dog, thank heavens, and now I'm laid up with my foot propped up on pillows and ice on my ankle. The rest and relaxation are now a certainty, which perhaps is not a bad thing.
Lastly, a few moments of animal companions for you, as they accompanied me outside on my hobble to the gate into the field in order to capture storm clouds with the camera.
Sass found a bit of hoof on which to chew.
Django at his most noble. I've trimmed his face so that he can see clearly now. The rest of him is dreadlocks, but his spring trim is still a few weeks away, since he sleeps outside and it's still chilly at night.
Winston was more interested in twining around my legs than being photographed, but he did pose to make a lovely composition of orange against the needle-strewn ground of the driveway.
Soop was asleep in the attic, so unavailable to model. I think I shall have a nap too.