Three Times the Charm

Mia Weinberg’s studio shows her love of nature.

Mia Weinberg’s studio shows her love of nature.

You may have already seen the art of Mia Weinberg and not even known it. She creates public art. Her illuminated nature map was seen at the Richmond Skytrain Station. She designed another nature map for the floor of the Delbrook Community Centre in North Vancouver. Public art enlivens our everyday lives, but we seldom recognize the artist or the effort.

In this blog series, I'm interested in discovering what triggers people to turn to art after another career. In Mia's case, it was not a single turning point, but a series of leaps.

Mia came to art through a very circuitous route. She grew up in England and although she loved art as a child, she believed that real artists had an innate ability to draw. Although she excelled at pottery and screen printing, she couldn’t draw and thus believed that she wasn’t creative enough to be an artist. She went on to study materials technology and became a packaging designer in the plastics industry. 

But after nearly a decade of hard work and success, she made a bold decision. She was going to rent out her house, quit her steady job, and move to Vancouver to explore her artistic side. She explained to her puzzled friends and worried parents that this would be the gap year that she had never taken. 

Why did Mia make such a drastic change? It was a combination of things. Her job had shifted and she was looking for a change. Her milestone thirtieth birthday was approaching. Her sister had just gotten married—in Vancouver.

After arriving in Canada, Mia dove into the creative life and took art classes.  After her “gap year” was over, she decided to stay in Vancouver, applied for her visa, and found a job. Eventually she enrolled in the fine arts program at Emily Carr University.

But even though she had moved much closer to her childhood dream of being an artist, Mia's pragmatism still won out and she chose the industrial design stream. Her immigrant parents ingrained a strong work ethic in Mia, which meant she prioritized the responsibility to support herself. Night shift work at the post office financed her while she was at art school.

Her second turning point came at a summer retreat for personal development with new friends from art school. Mia realized what was really important to her was fine arts and freedom of personal expression. She switched from industrial design over to painting and photography, and began experimenting with photograms. Photograms allowed her to express her love of nature and natural forms. (You can see one of her photograms in the studio photo above.)

After graduating from Emily Carr, Mia continued with the photograms and her work at the post office. Then an opportunity arose for her to work with an art consultant. This job was more related to her art practice and its part-time hours allowed her to work on her art. At work, Mia created proposals and presenting to businesses—all new experiences for her.

The final turning point for Mia came when she was invited to apply for a public art project in Edmonton, which combined natural forms with granite. Public art was a perfect synthesis for Mia. The Edmonton project combined the nature themes of her photography, her work in industrial materials, and the business aspects of her art consulting. She loved the experience and began to apply for more public art projects.

A public art career is different from a studio practice. Mia applies to cross-Canada competitions for public art pieces. She develops a concept and then researches the materials involved---like the engraved granite she used in Edmonton. Her proposal includes: the artwork concept, a construction schedule, and a budget. The budget includes artist fees. After writing and submitting a proposal, she waits to hear if she has won the competition. Delays are common, and it can take months or even years before the artwork actually happens. Her schedule is tough to predict and years can be crazily busy or scarily empty.

Naturally, the more public art you create, the more well-known you become and the easier it is to win competitions. For Mia, her dream is to become so renowned that she will get to skip competition process. The day I interviewed her, she was finishing a proposal, and waiting to hear about two others. However precarious this life might be, Mia loves her public art practice. For the first time since she quit her job in England, she works full time in art alone.

Mia's art career has lessons for other creative people looking to pursue their dreams.

Don’t give up your day job.

Mia walked the tightrope between creative dreams and practicality. Although she was drawn to art from the beginning, she resisted the impracticality of an art career. She worked first in an art-adjacent field—packaging design—to make a living. In this way, she built up a nest egg that allowed her the financial freedom to take off for Canada and art school. Throughout her art career, she maintained part-time jobs alongside her art practice. Mia can proudly say that she has always supported herself.

But…your day job can inspire your art.

When Mia finally settled on public art, she was able to synthesize all her life experiences, something that a younger artist would not be able to do. Her work in industrial design, her interest in nature and photogram work, her art consultancy experience—all have come together in her current art. Most artists draw upon their lives and history to create art; the more experience you have to draw on, the more depth your art will have. 

To see more of Mia’s artwork, especially the public art you may have already admired, check out her website.

Art As Therapy

This post marks the first in a series of interviews that I will be doing about artists who came to art later in life. I was inspired to do this by my own life as well as many questions I've been asked in my studio and after artist talks. I believe that many people are looking for encouragement in pursuing an encore career in art. Hopefully these stories will encourage people to explore their own creativity.

Sande Waters

Choosing a career in art was simple for Sande Waters. Art is something that she must have in her daily life. In her lovely water-view home in North Vancouver, she has not one but two studios. The upstairs studio is a wide desk crammed with art supplies located beside her kitchen in the place where most would install a breakfast nook. Sande has trouble passing this spot without adding something to the many paper works she has on the go. On the day that I visited, she had two ink abstractions drying there.

Her other studio is in a converted garage (shown above). She  shares this workspace with two of her sons; her three sons are artistic as well. Sande confesses that this studio can get cold in the winter, but it gives her a place to work on larger art. She has a big canvas laid out with a beautiful splotch of ink absorbed into the surface in a way that reminds me of colour field artist Helen Frankenthaler. This studio is also full of: artwork, art books, art supplies, and canvases. If the studio illustrates the brain, Sande is an artist overflowing with ideas.

Sande’s current work is abstract and energetic. Ink is her current obsession, and she uses it on Yupo paper, canvas, and even on the small paper boxes she constructs. Her favourite subject is overviews, the kind of images that you get from airplanes. The loose flow of the spread of acrylic ink can be converted into imaginary topographic maps.

And Sande’s artwork isn’t confined to the studio. She serves on the board of directors of the Contemporary Art Society of Vancouver, and is in charge of awarding prizes to cutting edge artists. Sande and I meet most often at Seymour Art Gallery openings where she serves on the board there as well.

The Turning Point

Despite all this creative activity, Sande wasn’t always an artist. Her life followed a more traditional path: office work, marriage, and bookkeeping for the family business. Then at 42 years of age, there was a turning point in her life: her marriage ended.

At that point, with three young children, she had decisions to make. On one hand, she could take courses in accounting and continue her career in bookkeeping. But the other path—her love of art—was the one that appealed to her. She took a job with the school board as a special needs aide that would allow her summers with her kids. And she began part-time art studies at Emily Carr.

Although Sande has no complaints about the turn her life took, she fully realizes that art became therapy for her. She loved all her classes at Emily Carr. For Sande, art was an escape: a place where she could be creative and maintain a sense of self. Every mother knows how draining children can be, regardless of how much we love our kids, we become so-and-so’s mother instead of ourselves. Art is a way of declaring our creative identity. 

Sande’s determination shows in her art education. She graduated with her BFA from Emily Carr, a feat that took fourteen years! And then she went on to get her MFA at a low residency art program at the San Francisco Art Institute. The low residency component meant she could remain in Vancouver with her family and attend only summer classes in San Francisco.

What artists can learn from Sande

I was impressed by Sande’s inner calm and confidence. Perhaps because of her art degrees, she has never had any trouble identifying as an artist and continuing her art practice throughout her work, parenting, and studies. She would like to make more money in art sales, but draws a distinction between “décor art” and “core art” that may be less commercial.

Regarding art as personal therapy, Sande said she can both “lose herself in art, and find herself in art.” Art cannot be understated as a way of expressing ourselves and working out our emotions. I have written before about the times when I’ve used art to escape my personal problems, and Sande’s experience underlines this idea for me. She sees art as a form of self-expression and has identified therapy as a consistent theme in her work.

Finally, I asked Sande if she has any advice for aspiring artists. In particular, what should mature artists do to make current, cutting edge works? Her suggestions:

  •  Be true to yourself. Don’t worry about what people buy or like.
  •  Use play and experimentation to extend your art practice. Sometimes finding your expertise is a process of elimination.
  •  Educate yourself about art. Take an art degree or quality art courses.

To learn more about Sande Waters’s art, please check out her website.

Life Long Artistry

I just watched a short documentary film entitled The 100 Years Show, which is about the artist Carmen Herrera. The hook is that although she painted every day for her whole adult life, she wasn’t “discovered” until she was in her nineties. She was invited into a New York show when another artist dropped out. Since then her fame has grown exponentially, both in the art world and through this touching film. I have to admit I teared up as she expressed regret that her husband never got to see her become popular. He had always supported her art.

Although this film touches on injustices of the art world like ageism and sexism, it’s very inspiring as well. Is there an artist who hasn’t wondered why he or she hasn’t achieved more? I’ll to admit to a lot of artist envy. And in turn, fledgling artists ask me for advice and say they’d love to be in my shoes. It’s like an endless cycle of striving.

Herrera made hard-edged abstractions early and never veered from that artistic path. She stayed true to her vision of geometric abstractions and continues to make art even past the century mark. She stayed true to her vision despite being ignored by the gallery system. Was she driven by an innate confidence? The need to create? The emotional support of her husband. Whatever the cause, her life is very inspiring. As I mentioned in my previous review of the Cy Twombly exhibition, finding your own style and sticking with it becomes more epic the longer you are able to stay with it.

Alternatively, you can also experiment stylistically, as long as you keep making art. Neil Young is a good example. He has run through various genres of music: folk, rock, rockabilly, operatic, blues, country, and even grunge. And he goes in and out of style, but keeps making music. In the art world, Gerhardt Richter makes paintings that are highly realistic and completely abstract. When I was at the Tate Modern, I saw one of his digital strip paintings for the first time, so he is continuing to experiment in his eighties.

A portion of the Gerhardt Richter digitalized painting at the Tate Modern

A portion of the Gerhardt Richter digitalized painting at the Tate Modern

After returning from a three-month studio break, I’ve found myself floundering a little. At first, I had a ton of energy and got a few new projects going immediately. Then I had a setback: rejection from the Vancouver Art Rental and Sales program—in the first round! I don’t deal well with rejection, a subject I should probably write about in greater depth since all artists experience it. But whenever my confidence is down, I’m more indecisive in the studio. That’s definitely a problem.

What this documentary illustrated was the idea that an art career can be viewed in perspective of a whole lifetime. While it’s beautiful that Carmen Herrera finally had her work recognized by the art community, what’s really inspiring is the fact that she made her art each day for so many years: after rejections, without financial rewards, and even after the death of her biggest supporter. Her real strength is her belief in herself.

Whether you create the same thing each day or something brand new, the real key is persistence. You have to believe in yourself and be above trends or popularity.

twombly: the beauty of consistency

Did you know Twombly made such colourful work? It came as a lovely surprise to me.

Did you know Twombly made such colourful work? It came as a lovely surprise to me.

The beauty of travel is the random discoveries you make. If I’m only in Paris for a week in April, I’m going to see whatever big show is at the Pompidou, regardless of the artist. But I certainly lucked out when the artist of the moment turned out to be Cy Twombly.

While this may be sacrilegious to my many artist friends who adore Twombly, I had no strong feelings about him going in. I had seen an exhibit of his drawings in Tokyo and enjoyed it. But a retrospective really allows you to understand the whole of an artist’s work and that whole is very impressive. This show had his drawings, paintings, sculpture, and photography. In addition, I got to go twice, which gave me even more opportunity to explore the details of the work. And I emerged a big Twombly fan!

The Work

First off, what is impressive about Twombly’s work is how early he came to making the loose marks that exemplify all his work. That consistency is impressive. There was one small room with oil pastel scribbles on graph paper. Honestly, these drawings are exactly what people would describe as being “something my kid could do.” And seen in isolation, they are unimpressive. But seen in the context of a decades-long career of making similar scribbles, the drawings become impressive. The restraint, the colour choices, the directional lines—every decision is the seed for the magnificent paintings that follow.

Another highlight was the Roman paintings made after his marriage to Luisa Tatiana Franchetti. They were huge complex canvases and one had the sexiest description I’ve ever seen in a museum: “Between 1960 and 1962 he produced some of his most sexual paintings, Empire of Flora being an evocative example. Partial glimpses of body parts, male and female, are scattered over canvases that seem to preserve the sensual memory of hot Roman nights.” Hot Roman nights! I’d like to meet the art historian who wrote that. Maybe it was only the translated French version of the show. Or maybe it’s the beginning of game show: Gallery notes or porn film title?

My favourite paintings in the show were Nine Discourses on Commodus. These nine beautiful paintings seemed to evolve between panels and showed many of Twombly’s regular marks: grids, words, loose paint strokes, mixed media. I spent a long time appreciating all the little details of the work. Shockingly, these paintings were not well received when he first exhibited them in 1964, but they still look gloriously contemporary.

There too many highlights in the show to list them all. But it was the first time I had seen his sculpture: found object assemblages coated in white paint and the occasional drip of beautiful colour. And his delicate photographs which focus on blurred objects and decay. Or the bright canvasses shown at the top of this post. And I’m grateful for the serendipity of travel which allowed me to really discover Twombly.

How To Be Great

Work in progress is progressing

Recently I went to see a movie about a piano virtuoso: Seymour: An Introduction. It’s a documentary about Seymour Bernstein, an 85 year-old pianist who gave up performing and now concentrates on teaching high-level students. Bernstein is truly fascinating and even after an entire film, I wanted to know more about him

Two qualities of his personality really stood out for me. First, as a teacher, he was able to make subtle tweaks in his students’ piano technique that made the music infinitely better and more moving. It’s a level of knowledge and sensitivity that even someone like me, who knows nothing about classical music, could appreciate.

Second, he has this huge love for classical piano music—an obsession so enormous that it blinds him to normal perceptions. For example, when he was drafted into the army, it was a complete mismatch for a sensitive boy who had never left home. But he found himself able to march for hours while others fell away, and he attributed that to the mental concentration he had learned from music. And when he found that there was a classical strings player in his troop in Europe, he suggested to his commanding officer that they could do performances. The C.O. scoffed that nobody would listen to classical music. But when Bernstein prevailed, the troops loved the concert. “They wouldn’t let us go,” he remembered happily.

When I saw the movie, about a month ago, I was going through a slump in my work. I had been painting, but I seemed to be stuck. The work for my big exhibition in May was well underway, but nowhere near completion. Therefore, one thing that Bernstein said made an especially big impact on me. He said that on the days when the music went well he was happy. Conversely, he was frustrated on those days when the music didn’t go well. His solution was to practise more, from two hours to three, right up to eight hours of practising.

This solution seems so logical, yet it’s contrary to the laziness inherent in many of us. If the painting isn’t going well, it’s easy to take a break and do something else—check Instagram, have a snack, go for a walk, cook dinner. Perhaps these distractions are even good or useful, but they move us away from the main purpose of our lives. If you want to excel at an art, it will never be easy. An artist will have to put long hours of work into their craft. Sometimes there will be setbacks and screw-ups, but you will keep moving forward. And as Bernstein said, on those good days, you will be happy. The best kind of happy, when you are satisfied with your important life's work.

Thanks, Seymour! The next day, I went into the studio and began working harder. I locked my smarthphone in the car, stopped puttering, and just got down to painting. And you know what? I was able to push my paintings into completed stages immediately. And now I’m happy.

New Work

I can’t remember the last time I had nine new paintings in the studio! Generally, it takes me months to complete a painting, but I had a few deadlines to meet this time. I have a show in Harrison Hot Springs during September, and I have an ongoing project which needs 12 new pieces, and of course, the Culture Crawl is coming up in November.

But right now, to the delight of visitors to the studio and to the horror of my insurance agent, I have a lot of art on hand. In addition, I’ve started making prints, and some of these paintings are available as prints as well.

blueberry pie, 48" x 48" 

rhubarb pie, 48" x 48" 

bumbleberry pie, 48" x 48" 

raspberry pie, 48" x 48"

All the pie paintings are also available as prints. 

born again, 48" x 48"

x-ray, 48" x 36"

lace memories,  48" x 36" 

And finally, one painting so fresh it hasn't been properly photographed yet!

stripes six, 24" x 72" 

Anatomy of a Painting

Recently I created a painting that was my largest single artwork ever. It was a commission work, so only a few people got to see it in person, but I thought I’d like to write about the process and share the painting with you.

Valerie and I met in 2009 when I exhibited at the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition. Since then, I have not returned to the TOAE, but Valerie and I have been in touch by email and I have done some commission work for her before. She has also visited my studio while in B.C., but mainly we work together virtually.

It’s always a joy to work with Valerie as she brings a lot of enthusiasm and very few restrictions. She determines the size and then we discuss which existing paintings she likes, and a very general colour scheme. Not surprisingly, we both love the same colours: brights especially pinks and purply blues.

When I work on a commission, it’s a bit stressful, because I’m constantly worried about whether the client will like the final artwork. It’s impossible to put yourself in someone else’s head, and my process is very unpredictable. Since this panel was 40” x 80”, it was even more daunting. So for the first time, I did an actual maquette on a tiny scale.

Directionally, Valerie told me she really liked my new jellyfish paintings, but she was looking for a more abstracted drawing. I had a vision in my head of a painting that used all the resin colours I have. I did this trial piece on two 6” x 6” panels, at a time when we were still deciding whether to do one large piece or diptych. It was a good starting point, as Valerie decided she preferred a single panel and she didn’t like all the red.

Next step was prepping the panel. I apply gesso, let it dry, and then sand. Repeat ten times (at least) until I get a beautifully smooth surface. It feels so nice to apply ink to a satiny surface.

Here’s the ink drawing. I loved the idea of a more abstracted jellyfish, and I think I will move into this direction. It’s an idea of movement rather than replicating the actual jellyfish. This is one way that doing something new, like a commission or a painting for a themed show, can change your painting direction. I also loved the scale here, it inspires me to do even bigger panels.

I showed Valerie the ink drawing, and once I saw it on the computer screen, we agreed it needed more black. I added that and then the fear set in. Once I added resin, it would be final. I would have to start all over with a new panel if I screwed up. For three days, I had the panel up on the wall, eying it as I did other work until I got up the courage to complete it!

And things did go wrong. Mixing large quantities of coloured resin is actually impossible, since they start to cure right in the containers as I’m working! I ended up moving a smoking container of green resin off the table at the beginning of the process. My overactive imagination had me setting the studio on fire, and becoming the building pariah. In the end, I managed to mix up proper quantities of non-flaming resin and achieve the effects I had in my head.

Since resin has toxic fumes, I have to leave the studio before I can see the final result. I returned the next morning to check on the painting and prep it for final curing. When I hung it on the wall, I felt breathless. The painting was so beautiful! I wanted to share it with someone, so I went out in the hall, but at 7:30 am, there aren't a lot of artists even awake. Luckily, Morley, our wonderful building manager, was in and he agreed to come to my studio for a peek. ("Usually people only want me to come in if a pipe is leaking or something," he said happily.) And he was sweetly appreciative. I also took photos so I could show my family. We were leaving that day for Ontario, so I couldn't bring anyone else in. 

One unique thing about Valerie is that she likes a surprise. So I while I keep her informed during the process—especially the parts I can change—once I do the resin that’s it. I have the painting packed and shipped and she doesn’t see it until she uncrates it in Toronto. I don’t know how she feels during the waiting time, but I’m always nervous until I hear back from her!

The happy ending: she loved it. Here it is in her home—with the giant bear friend of her two sons. I think they were in camp when the painting arrived, but I hope they like it too. I miss the painting! But the good thing about creating amazing new work is that it inspires us to new heights.

Ten Things I Love About Australia

M.A. in Oz

I’m just back from a wonderful trip Down Under. My daughter, Julia, moved to Perth in June for a semester of school. Before she left, she hinted that a visit from me at the end of her term would not be unwelcome. The flight is loooong—15 hours from Vancouver to Sydney—so I tried to jam everything I could into this trip. We started off in Perth, and then went to Melbourne and Sydney.

At the risk of sounding like an idiot, I didn’t totally understand that it’s now summer in Australia. I knew that the weather was going to be 30 - 40°C, but I figured that their winter was our summer, if that makes any sense. And don’t get me started on the disconnect of hearing Christmas carols and looking at palm trees. Anyway, the flipping of the seasons completely discombobulated me. I felt like it was summer everywhere, and I was ready to buy little summer dresses and start making summery art. The whole holiday seemed to be out of normal time, and as a result I think I enjoyed everything much more. I’ve had some personal stress in my life lately, and it was nice to escape it all.

So, as a salute to one of my favourite movies, and the late Australia actor who starred in it, here are Ten Things I Love About Australia:

1. I loved the neighbourhood pride in Fremantle.
When you see addresses in Australia, they are identified by neighbourhood. People seem to identify with their neighbourhoods with a fan-like zeal. I visited Fremantle, an artistic town near Perth. They have used a Potemkin-like preservation technique I saw often in Australia: maintaining the original façade while creating a whole new building behind. It creates charming street fronts and modern interiors. We toured a sunny outdoor (!) Christmas craft fair at the Fremantle Arts Centre. Here’s a travel tip for you: indie craft fairs are the best place to buy souvenirs. The Freemantle one was patriotically local, with local signs like Dingo Flour gracing t-shirts, cards, etc. get souvenirs.
A Canadian aside for those of you who read Robert Genn’s newsletter, the Fremantle Arts Centre may sound familiar, where it gained recent notoriety for awarding a large cash award to a very naïve print. Despite this dubious incident, the Arts Centre was quite interesting to visit with a variety of modern work

Graffiti in Perth
2. I loved the sunlight in Perth.
I guess while much of North America is shivering under record snowstorms, I shouldn't mention that it was 40˚C in Perth. You probably don't want to hear about my tan either. Anyway, the light is so intense in Perth that even my 60 SPF sunscreen wasn’t doing the job. Naturally there is a connection between light and art. That kind of light makes the brightest colours seem natural and right, and I saw some vivid paintings in private galleries, as well as a beach installation at PICA (Perth Institute of Contemporary Art.) I have the sneaking suspicion that I belong somewhere tropical creating my bright, glossy artworks.

Science at Melbourne Now
3. I loved seeing Melbourne Now at the National Gallery of Victoria
This survey exhibition of contemporary local artists was like a crash course for visitors to Melbourne. It was the perfect overview show since the city itself was the subject of much of the art. There were video installations that were like tours of the city: an electronic map explaining various sociological changes in the city, and a seamless video tour of the various alleyways of the city.
In addition, the museum showcases a lot of local craft as well: fashion, jewellery, shoes, clay, and glass. The museum space is lovely and open, and it was packed with all kinds of people enjoying the variety of art there.

Didn't I see you in V for Vendetta?

4. I love that Melbourne is famous for graffiti.
How can you take a problem and turn it into an attraction? Melbourne has alleyways filled with colourful graffiti that apparently change weekly. Tourists take tours specifically to see the graffiti. Personally, I felt uneasy at being trapped in a narrow alleyway with a gang of teens in masks yelling and swearing as they tagged the walls, but I guess that’s part of the street scene. I do like the idea of it, though.

5. I love the way that art was woven into life in Melbourne.
Melbourne is known as an artistic hub, and rightfully so. The city is famous for its street art, and there are many studios, designers, and galleries there. What impressed me most about Melbourne was the way that art had been woven into the commercial side of the city. As well as the street art, there was excellent art in our hotel, the stores, and most of the restaurants. Art was being used to enhance the whole way of life in Melbourne, as well as show that artists are a valued part of the city. Art is clearly a viable career in Melbourne.
Adam Cullen's art was even in the elevator.
Horns not included.
We stayed in The Cullen, an art hotel in the Prahan neighbourhood. Budget allowing, I try to stay in art hotels everywhere, but I have to say that this was the best art hotel I’ve ever stayed in. There are three hotels in the Art Series chain, and each one chooses one artist and features him in all the art in the hotel, with originals in the public spaces, prints in the room, and even a curator to tell you more about the art. Our hotel featured Australian artist, Adam Cullen. Our room included two large prints, an imprinted image on the glass bathroom wall, and even a stack of art books. The hotel map includes art galleries, as well as the usual restaurants and shops. The Cullen was doing more than just using art as décor, they show a real passion for art.

But art is also in restaurants and shops. Not just decorative art either, but actually interesting abstractions that enhance the shopping experience. I loved this painting in a store called Green With Envy. The designers used challenging abstract work instead of pretty "wallpaper."
Why can't all stores look this amazing?

6. I loved the hands-on aspects of all the art museums I visited.
Perhaps you can judge museums on how they treat children. In every museum I visited, there were special tags besides certain paintings, explaining the art specifically to children. And they all had hands on activities for kids as well, although they let shameless adults have fun as well. We made necklaces at the NGV and  a paper Frank Stella room at the AGNSW.

This gorgeous room is part of the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia.
7. I loved the compactness of my Sydney art tour.
Strangely, a lot of Australians in other cities warned us about Sydney, all bad stuff. But we loved Sydney. It seemed more business-like, possibly because we stayed closer to the CBD (Central Business District.) But the city was beautifully organized. In one long afternoon, we managed to do the iconic Opera House, the Botanical Gardens, and two fabulous art museums, all on foot. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to have an artist for a mom, just ask my kids: you’re going to go to a ton of museums. But I do offer bribes treats in the gallery café. And naturally we do the beaches, parks, and zoos as well, it's not art 24/7/. 

8. I loved that the museums were free and well attended.
There is a definitely a problem in Canadian thinking about art. When our own Prime Minister equates artists with galas, you know that culture equals elitism. In my hometown, a visit to the Vancouver Art Galley will set you back $17 and with only three floors, parts of which are usually closed for installations, it’s generally not worth the price.
But in Australia, all the fantastic museums we went to were completely free. There were Australian artists featured everywhere, some of them quite current. In fact, I saw a lovely mix of art (below) in the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW.) 
Loved the juxtaposition of contemporary and traditional portraits.
In fact, the only disappointing show we saw was one we paid for, an overview of American art at the AGNSW. The show was apparently meant to showcase an evolution of American art linked to history, but the paintings featured were mainly second-tier. The Rothko and Pollock ones were especially disappointing. I think it’s very sad that the better paintings weren’t chosen or allowed to travel, especially since so many Australian art lovers were coming out to see the show. Ah well, we saw so many great pieces in the rest of the museum that it didn’t matter. Apparently the best things in life are free.

Gregor Schneider welcomes you.
9. I loved the riskiness of the installations.
Another problem I see in Canada is that art that is challenging or weird is sometimes decried as a waste of taxpayers’ money and hidden away. It’s deemed unsuitable for children and decent people. In Australia, there seems to be more openness about risky or experimental art.
I saw school tours checking out crazy nudes with a minimum of snickering. And in the AGNSW, we went through a super-creepy installation piece by Gregor Schneider, which mimicked the original basement of a house in Germany complete with corpses. I think the scariest part was that you had to inform staff that you were entering the installation. Was this in case you didn’t come out?

10. I loved the people in Australia.
It’s not all about art, one of the reasons you enjoy a trip is the people. The Australians were so friendly and relaxed that it made everything that much better. If you’ve never been to Australia—go! With the gorgeous beaches, the culture, the design and great people, you’ll find ten things you love in no time.

You can't post about Australia without a koala photo!

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!

While everyone else was writing their summaries of 2012 or their New Year’s Resolutions, I was lying in bed and complaining about how I was starting 2013 with a bad cold. And then I had to catch up on life, and the blog kept getting pushed back. So my resolution to update the blog weekly went down the drain before it could even begin!

But you know that one of the secrets of success for artists is to keep plugging away. So here I am, not late…but early for the Chinese New Year!

2012 was another great year for my art. It was my best year ever in terms of sales. I have been fortunate enough to see my art sales grow almost every year since I began working fulltime as an artist. I also feel privileged to have met so many wonderful people who support my art: clients, other artists, art bloggers. One amazing part of the internet is that all of these people who I have never met in person, and yet they immeasurably encourage me in my art practice.

Of course, there were setbacks too, but I’m trying not to dwell on them. One of these days, I do intend to write a whole post about rejection, but I’ll be putting a positive spin on that too. I avoid the dark side, because it’s too easy to live there.

So what’s in store for 2013? First off, I do vow to blog weekly…from now on. I’ve even had requests to post more, well from one person anyway but that’s enough for me. I’m actually quite surprised at how often people tell me they enjoy reading my blog, I write a blog post and I rarely get immediate feedback, except from my sweet husband. (By the way, my children find this slightly embarrassing and hugely amusing: “You see each other all the time and you write to each other on the blog. Mom!”) But back to the blog, months later people comment to me in person about blog posts they have enjoyed, so obviously I should blog more. Besides I enjoy writing…

This year I’d like to continue my 2012 vow to do more giving. Just as an update, last year I did loan two paintings to the Union Gospel Mission, donate a painting to the National Nikkei Museum fundraiser, give away five paintings in contests on my fb page and through my newsletter. But I have tons of other ideas for giving, and frankly it was a lot of fun. During the holidays, I was delighted when my kids wanted to come to the studio and make art. When I posted the resulting paintings of the Ikea monkey on my personal fb page, a friend wanted to buy one but instead I gave her the painting and asked her to make a donation to an animal charity. She gave $$$ to the Vancouver Humane Society in my name (which was lovely of her) and they sent me a thank-you card with a pig on it! So the new year is starting off right.

But my biggest push in 2013 is around learning. I’d like to learn some new art skills or techniques this year, so I’ll be looking for interesting courses to take. I’m particularly interested in learning more about Photoshop, screenprinting and figure drawing.

There is a particularly inspiring thread about learning art on a board called A man named Jonathan Hardesty decided that he wanted to improve his drawing skills, particularly in the digital realm. So he began putting his sketches up and asking for feedback. He pledged to draw one sketch every day, and more on weekends. To be honest, the first sketches are pretty bad, BUT Hardesty differed from most people. First of all, he did stick to his pledge, he posted drawings constantly, good and bad. Secondly, he kept an open mind all the time. If someone made a suggestion, he thanked them and took it. He was never insulted or defensive, and as a result he got even more advice and encouragement. It became a virtuous circle.

I guess I don’t have to tell you that this story has a very happy ending. You can follow Hardesty’s visual journey from his first drawings to the masterful artist and art instructor that he has become, in this thread.

So, I guess the point is that resolutions are not just for belated New Years. We can all strive to be better…at drawing, at business or wherever our imaginations take us. All it takes is an open mind and a willingness to learn.

New Works

Finally! I've done a ton of experimenting this year, mainly because I didn't have many deadlines. After several months work, I've completed some new paintings that I'm really excited about. As my sometimes curmudgeony photographer commented to me today, "I think you're getting the hang of this."

green city, 36" x 72".
 This painting had very grid-like, urban feel as I was completing it. So of course, I added a map of Vancouver. So far everyone who sees it has tried to find their street. I love the motion of the big colour blocks in this painting.

bikini, 48" x 36"
After I finished this painting, I went home feeling completely satisfied and said, "I did a good day's work today." However my cats were more interested in when I was going to do some cat feeding. I love the detail that shows through the many circles, and the beautiful purple created when the blue and pink resin meet. The yellow flower balances out the composition, in fact there's a lovely balance of many elements here. Sigh.

sunset trip, 36" x 48"
This painting was the most challenging for me. For a long time, it sat on the wall, looking beautiful but incomplete. I hardly ever use black resin, but in this case it added that touch of darkness that so many of my paintings need. In addition, the black is not a deep black, but more like a squid ink black. When wiring it today, I noticed that it worked better on the horizontal, creating a hazy sunset scene. 

tipsy, 36" x 24"
Inspired recycling brought this painting to life. I intend to take a few paintings I'm not happy with and rework them with more layers of resin. This painting was a rather plain one with a little colour and a lot of line, and I added the big black stencil form and then went crazy with the coloured resin. Fun, fun, fun!

upon the shore, 36" x 108"
This painting was the first one to be completed, which means it came together really beautifully (with no agonizing on my part.) It was a direct result of the experimentation I did early in the year, playing with a lot of graffiti elements. I was looking back on my portfolio, and I realized that although I love bright colour, I hadn't ever done anything  neon bright. Now I have, and this painting is so amazing. I can hardly wait to see it hanging in a home, it's the biggest piece I've ever done and a real statement.

vibrant, 24" x 72"
This painting is actually part of a series of three that I worked on a year ago. One sold at the Crawl last year to the loveliest couple. And the third one isn't done yet. This painting has a vibrant, modern look and is also an attempt by me to get as machine-like as possible with three coats of supersmooth resin. It's not perfectly smooth though, I don't think my resin work will ever be. And that's good, since the human touch is what distinguishes original art.

Olympics and the well rounded life

I've got a fever, and it's not for more cowbell. The Olympics are on in Vancouver, and I've been attending all kinds of events. The most incredible one so far was the men's hockey game between Canada and Switzerland, which was unbelievably close and ended up in Canada winning in a shoot out.  I'm a big hockey fan and I've attended many games, from minor hockey tournaments to Canuck's playoff games, but I have to say that this game was unbelievable. The atmosphere and excitement at the rink were palpable. As the young guy beside me put it in an awestruck voice: "I can't believe I'm here!"

And that was the part of the game that was the best, the energy of everyone in the rink.  18,000 people feeling the same tension, hopes, and the final common jubliation at the win.  And despite all the hype and worry about the Olympics, it turns out that it's energy of people that make the Olympics a fantastic experience.  As I walk around downtown Vancouver, I see hundreds of people in places where nobody normally walks, just drinking in the beautiful city and everyone around them. On Granville Street at night, I see big groups of happy people partying it up. The city is transformed by all the people.  The Olympics creates a mix of different nationalities, different ages and different interests, all together in one spot.
So, what does this have to do with art?  Many artists have been protesting the Olympics as too much spending on sports and not enough on the arts.  However I think that this us vs. them mentality is wrong. The truth is that between the beginning of the Olympic process and the games, there was a global economic crisis, and governments at all levels were forced to retrench and cut arts spending (among many other programs).  They had to honour their Olympic spending commitments, and so cuts came at the expense of other things, many more important than arts.  Whether there will be long lasting economic benefits to Vancouver cannot yet be judged, but I believe there is hope.

On the streets of Vancouver today there are many lineups for different pavillions and for the Vancouver Art Gallery.  Because the truth is that no person is one dimensional.  Tourists may come for the Olympic games, but they are also interested in the culture of the place. I saw the beauty of Barcelona at the summer Olympics and two years later found myself in Spain, touring the Bilbao and the Prado. As a parent, I have tried to raise children who are well-rounded, active in sports & arts and interested in culture & ideas.  Well-rounded people who travel and enjoy many aspects of life. A few people are fantatics, but most are interested in a variety of things, and arts are usually one of them. So any event that brings more people and more interest to the place you live is fantastic.

Go Arts Go!

Force fields

I have been reading a book about Peter Doig, an artist I greatly admire.  The book is about his 2008 Show at the Tate Britain, and features many of his disquieting landscapes.  In the book, I spotted a painting that I had seen in person at the National Gallery in Ottawa.  This painting, Grand Rivere, is a dark and jungly landscape that suggests a mysterious narrative. It's huge and gorgeous and slightly disconcerting, and held the whole wall of the museum room.  On the opposite wall was a large scale painting by another artist that I admire, Landon Mackenzie. This painting was also dark, a blue darkness with glowing highlights. 

I must have looked like a crazed puppy at a tennis court, as I scrambled across from one painting to the other, admiring the details in turn.  The paintings shared a darkness and a mystery, but situating them across from one another was brilliant as it created an artistic synergy in the room, a vertiable force field.  The paintings were superficially similar, but the differences were intriguing:
jungle vs. urban
paint rubbed away vs. addition of mixed media
nature vs. man-made

I love to read about art, but not as much as I enjoy exhibitions. Seeing paintings in person is always worthwhile, but seeing paintings in juxtaposition adds an unexpected dimension.

Of Montreal

I just returned from a lovely weekend in Montreal involving many of my favourite activities: eating, shopping, seeing art and socializing. One topic of discussion was why people, both men and women, are better dressed in Montreal. They wear artfully knotted scarves, trendy shoes, and this fall, lots of dark layers. My favourite fashion sighting was a punky young girl with skinny jeans, a jacket, black t-shirt and Doc Marten-styled boots; the kicker was that the boots were bright fushia and the t-shirt had a splash of the exactly the same pink.

I think all this good dressing has to do with "the gaze". In Montreal people look at you, sometimes flirtatiously, sometimes curiously, sometimes competitively, but they all look. If people are looking at you with interest, you hold yourself up a little straighter and try to look your best. You add that long scarf or dangly earring and pop on a brighter lipstick when you go out, because you know you will be seen.

I think that something similar goes on with art. Once you buy your first original artwork, you take it home and hang it and admire it. You start to look at art more, when visiting friends, at the doctor's office, or best of all in the museum. You have a heightened awareness of the visual, and a growing appreciation of what you like and don't like. You start to look around you, and notice little vignettes of beauty everywhere.

What lovely vignette did you see today?