Saturday, 28 January 2012

Originality and The Internet: Creative Brainworms

So. I've got this group exhibit coming up at the Centre for Craft and Design. It's called Home to Roost and it promises to be great - because it's all about birds. Birds as a subject. Filled with creative potential. I'm psyched. Or, rather, I should be.

I have a lot of unformed ideas in my imagination. Unformed Ideas. This is art-speak. Code for "I don't really have anything". In real life terms this means, for example: "I have unformed funds in which to pay my credit card bill". Or: "I have an unformed ability to come to work today". The underlying meaning of this multi-purpose phrase in my case is "I am pathetic and have nothing to give".

I've been inspired lately by the art of a local guy, Gary Addicott. Gary was recently juried by the Centre for Craft and Design and his work enthusiastically received because of the freshness of his creative vision. While he looks to other art - pop, op, dada, indigenous etc - how he incorporates these influences are clearly "Gary". This is a Ghostwalker beetle. If you could see the detail work in the patterning it would take your breath away. Truly original.

Ghostwalker Beetle by GaryAddicott
Take a bow, Gary.
Now back to me!

Traditionally, when faced with a crisis of creativity I turn to the internet. It has always been a creative tool and friend in my most desperate hour. I troll, spiral, and stumble upon things. Bask in the blue glow of possibility. However, like sleeping in and chocolate, I'm starting to think it's something I've got to give up. And here's why:

Last summer, my creative-co-conspirator Teena Marie Fancey and I worked on an installation for Lumiere -  a free night of public art in Sydney (it's a cousin to Nuit Blanche). Our concept was a challenge to ourselves - to take plastic garbage we'd collected off our respective beaches in Margaree Harbour and Gabarus - and using nothing but our keen imagination and our soft little hands - make this crap into something resembling an imaginary marine world. At the time it may have been more of an excuse to spend the summer walking the beach.

Teena was more dedicated than I, truthfully. By summer's end she'd scavenged carloads of stinking plastic trash which she dutifully cleaned off and untangled. She had "the vision" Her husband was about to put her on that show about hoarders. I hated to admit that I'd had the vision but must have dropped it in the sand somewhere and lost it. I only really had one thing to bring to this installation: plastic jellyfish bottles. I could see a sea of gently floating blue-glowing bottle jellies that our viewers would wander amongst, enraptured. This is a perfect example of the concept  "unformed idea".

We worked hard, Teena and I, to "form" this idea. After 50 bucks worth of helium and balloons we couldn't make them float. $200 worth of cheap Chinese novelty lights couldn't get them to glow either. There were moments of desperation.

We did, though, make them into these things that cast pretty amazing reflections of actual jellyfish, caught in nets.

Jellyfish wall, squash court, YMCA Sydney

They were pretty cool, along with an ocean floor of interesting "corals" and "shoals" made out of shotgun casings and detergent bottles and old rubber gloves. All Teena's work, btw. Teen's an idea "former". You want her on your team.

Imagine, then, dear blogplodder, the day I search the internet for some new inspiration and I find this artist, half way around the globe, has stolen my idea....a year before I even formed it. How could she, Miwa Koizumi, be reading my mind into the future? I can't even read my own mind past lunchtime. Plus, she'd read my mind so very carefully as to put even more detail into these bottle jellyfish than I'd known I'd visioned.

PET Project by Miwa Koizumi

And there you have the internet inspiration conundrum. At which point do you find the internet has gone a bit beyond creative tool to become a brain worm? Okay, I'm sounding a little unhinged with the brain worm thing, but think about it. When does the surfing, the absorbing, the unconscious borrowing of ideas and images taint your own authentic creative voice?

In my case, surfing the net and finding something so very similar to something I'd thought of independently was defeating. I felt I had to apologise to people as if I were a fraud. In this case the internet, which can be so good at creating a global community of like-minded souls, merely served to tell me that my idea was common, perhaps even banal in it's conception. It was deflating. Like a dead jellyfish on the beach.

So, does the internet inspire or influence negatively? Are there really any original ideas out there?

When I'm a wrasslin' with 'dem big questions I often turn to my husband who's a thinker and reader extraordinaire. He gave me 2 "great books" on the larger issues of imagination. And here they are. Next to them I have placed the t.v. channel remote. I am making a visual joke here.


 I then asked him to precis the books into a couple of good lines for my blog. He didn't. So, you go read them. I'll send them to you. Let me know if they answer these weighty questions. I'm a Google-head now. If it's more than 3 lines long and buried anywhere after the first page on my search results then forget about it. I've got an episode of Downton abbey and some pizza waiting.

Oh, and one other thing if I still have your attention. I'm looking for models for a life drawing open studio. We especially need men. If they want to cover their bits that's okay with us. $60 per session.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Pink, Pirates and Protestant Guilt

I've just got my latest sales report from my "exclusive" retailer, the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design ( It appears that of all the work I sell through them, my cards are the most popular sellers. While I'd like to call myself a book artist, here I'm more of a card artist. Cardartist. Cardtist. Cardist. Whatever. I've decided I'm happy with this. I've always thought of art cards as an egalitarian art form. Affordable and approachable. Pocket-ready, unlike, say, Meat Dress. Less expensive than Starry Night, easier to give than a Wagner opera and less confounding (and expensive) than Voice of Fire. $5 to 10 and you can win.

So here I am, on this wintry day, toiling in my studio on product for the most odious of Hallmark occasions. Valentine's day.

 It's not that I have anything against romance and hearts and flowers (I lie. It makes me uncomfortable). It's not the perfunctory, guilt-laden nature of the giving  (after all, guilt is a useful protestant tool in life, and essential in relationships). It's the colours. And the heart thing. But mostly the colour coding. Red. Pink. Blech. Oh, and the fact that my wonderful dog, Clover, died on Valentine's Day last year.

 That required many remaindered red heart-shaped boxes of
 Russel Stover Assorted Truffles to help overcome.

But back to the theme of my post. If you're still with me...

I've made some really really big red and pink mistakes in my life. A pink and red themed bedroom when I was too old to really have one (14). I went to town on my furniture with cans of glossy pink spray enamel. Pink priscilla curtains. And as if that weren't an object lesson in DON'T EVER DO THAT AGAIN I went on, a few years back, to DO IT AGAIN in a 2 floor foyer and hallway. The colour had some uber-hip name like Nacre. But after 4 gallons and 3 days of painting it was more like Massacre. A bloody pink-red. The kind of colour that inspires one to violence.

So, how ironic that I now live in a house that's pink on the outside and pink on the inside.

As a friend described it, its like "living in a bottle of Pepto Bismol".
Really, it's not that pink. Especially at night when the lights are off.

So, back I go to making Valentines for lovers. My mind is wandering though, to designing cards for these much more worthy and less saccharine international holidays: 

International Biodiesel Day - August 10
(colour scheme - trendy black, maybe a bit goth in style)

World Thinking Day - Feb 22
(colour scheme - soft greys with beige accents) 

International Special Librarian's Day - April 13
(whites, naturals, other quiet colours)

Towel Day - May 31
(bright rainbow colours, stripes and polka dots)

and finally, my favourite:

September 19th

I haven't a clue what colour that would most epitomise this grand day.
 Who cares anyway?
 It would be an entire day
 of talking like a Pirate.
  What could be better? Garrrrr.....I asks ye!


Watch this. It's too funny at times. And don't feel badly about my dog.
 Unless you want to send me some chocolates on Valentine's day because
 you know I'll be feeling
See. Protestant guilt. I'm a practitioner.
Remember. Me. Sad. Chocolate. Give. Feb. 14th.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Priming the Pump

So, last week I declared that I was going to revamp my book "Whale Mapping" in order to submit it to an upcoming group show in the lovely gallery at Cape Breton University. Well, of course, I dithered and dawdled and waited for inspiration to my sleep? While walking the dog? Maybe an image mysteriously appearing on my morning toast? Perhaps reflected in a glass of wine? (Ah, the wine inspiration. So reliable. not.).

Unfortunately, waiting for inspiration rarely produces inspiration.

Reading the Globe and Mail last week I came upon a pithy little nugget of wisdom by the author Wade Davis, a Canadian anthropologist/ethnobotanist/Massey lecturer/"Explorer in Residence" for the National Geographic Society and author of a great book The Serpent and the Rainbow about voodoo zombies in Haiti. This guy is all about self-invention and intellectual creativity. To quote Wade:

"Creativity is not the motivation for action. It's the consequence of action."

Ah. Action. So that's what's been missing.

Action. And a hard deadline. So I set to work, the day before the submission deadline. Thankfully, I do not have to fire up a kiln, hack at a lump of marble or forge iron. I went to work with my little pieces of paper and my sharp little x-acto knife and a ruler. I came up with what I think is a nifty book. I've taken a little wonky video of it for you as this book is so amazingly complex I can barely describe it to you with mere words:

I know. A tour-de-force of form meets function. Profound in it's message delivery. Sometimes I amaze myself.

Therefore, my message to you, Oh 8 loyal followers of my blog, is - well, not a message. It's a question. What primes your pump? What makes you create when you're just not really in the mood? For me, other than an oppressive deadline, it is beauty. I know, it's bourgeois and perhaps a bit corny but it's what makes me make. Make things.

I have a photo I took from a trip to France that really sums it all up for me:

This is someone's random act of beauty. Those flowers are not of that vine, growing over the entrance of a 13th century church. Concealed behind that inconspicuously curled leaf is one of those florist's water vials that holds the two daisies. Someone placed those flowers there, at the entrance of a church that sits in the middle of about 100 hectares of vineyard, away from everyone and everything.

 As small and transitory as this random act of beauty may have seemed to the person who put it there, it was meaningful enough for me to take a picture of it, and to share it with 8 other people, who it may in turn inspire. Now that's powerful. That should prime anyone's pump, I'd say.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

of whales and walls

This grey and snowy weekend is to be devoted to the re-visioning of a book I'd created a while back for a group show (Flotsam and Jetsam) at the Centre for Craft and Design in Sydney. The book is called Whale Mapping. It's a simple accordion fold-out binding featuring a collage of creepy other-worldly photos of a 20+ foot fin whale that washed up on a local beach a few years back.

Along with this book, the other lasting memory of this behemoth was a lingering odour of rancid whale blubber in our old Camry. The whale was literally melting from within, and each wave breaking around our legs would coat them with more molecules of liquid whale. We drove home with that souvenir on us and on our car seats. Even our dogs couldn't stand the smell of us.

There was a poignancy to this whale, and to all whales in fact, who wash up in such public places. They live their lives in such privacy and concealment and yet end up on display - poked, prodded and hacked at by gawkers such as us. This became the theme of the book, and generated the text:

I could swim so deeply

                                  as to be invisible. 
                                                                                  shrouded by dark oceans

made music in blue deeps 

                                                                                               and played, if you can imagine that

my life so private
                                            my death so public

I do have a flair for the dramatic. Anyway, the book itself was a bit disappointing. It just kind of sat there, and flopped around. Much like the whale. It deserved a binding a bit more stable and befitting the sobriety of the subject, I think.

the book in question,  about to flop

I'm trying to prepare this book in time for an upcoming exhibit at Cape Breton University Art Gallery called "Proletariart: The People's Art Exhibit" January 27 to February 24. Here's the link:

There, now that I've put my intentions right out there on the blogosphere, I will actually have to do this. 

So, this morning while-walking-dog-while-thinking-whale I came upon two things of interest. First, a whale, of the flying variety. A flying and spinning whale! Apparently it flies, spins AND squeaks in a good Gabarus gale.

whale weathervane on the house of our pals Tim and Jacqueline

Just down the road we joined a gathering....pretty much the entire village, at the seawall. The community had gathered to show support and appear for a photograph for the Cape Breton Post about our rapidly decomposing sea wall. Time and tides and some pretty forceful gales have caused the seawall to collapse in sections. This seawall is the only thing that protects our tiny sea level village from a vast and unpredictable ocean. When it goes, so shall we. Therefore, the battle has begun in earnest to get the attention of the powers that be. 

There may be whales in our driveways if we're not successful. Wish us luck!

Monday, 2 January 2012


 I have always been one for grandiose New Year resolutions.  However, in the last few years I've been downsizing my resolves. I'm not sure if it's because I'm more content with who I've become or if I've basically just given up on myself.

Last year's resolution was "eat the old stuff from the cupboards". The year before was "floss". The year before that it was "try to not wear sweatpants before 5 pm". "Aim Low and Ye Shall Not be Disappointed" will be my epitaph.

So, how strange it was to find myself on this morning's dog walk suddenly making resolutions. Resolutions. And more than mere resolutions - making cute resolution acronyms out of those various resolutions. By the end of the walk I'd resolved to fill 2012 with:

or, more accurately

P for Production!
E  for Education!
for Promotion!

(I'd really hoped to find good resolutions to make my acronym "PEE" but it just wasn't working and seemed a bit unprofessional).

So this is the year for real creative goal-setting. I hope to be sharing some of my ideas and work in this year of PEPpy book arts. I don't have any right now though. I do, however, have a nice picture of today's haul of beach glass. There's been a stiff north wind for the last day or so and it's uncovered quite a harmoniously-coloured offering. I paired it up with a great piece of weathered blue bubble wrap found yesterday that is decidedly reptilian. I have a project in mind for that piece of plastic. There, see. PEP is already working for me!

So, have you made your creative resolutions yet? Let me hear your perky acronyms. Betcha don't have any. Not as good as mine.