Thursday, 29 December 2011

Snow globe

Today we had our first snow that required shovelling! My seven-year-old niece Mia made this card for me for Christmas. She loves snow globes, eating meat, and making crafts. Homemade gifts are the best.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Studio Series: Red: Confidence

Red: Confidence © Karen Thiessen, 2000 Photo Credit: Julian Beveridge
A visit by my art hero Sandra Brownlee to my Halifax studio in the summer of 2000 gave Red: Confidence its name. I had just finished taking this quilt off the frame and Sandra sat on my cool studio floor with it in her lap. She said it felt like armour. Armour provides protection; protection gives confidence. 

This is another of my favourite quilts. I painted many of the fabrics with screen-printing inks. Some of the fabric comes from the corduroy pillows that my mom sewed for their family room in the 1970s. This quilt was in The New Spirit of Ontario, an exhibition held at the offices of the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario at Queen's Park in Toronto in 2001. At the opening I met L.G. Hilary Weston. I was allowed to invite one person to accompany me to a private reception where we exchanged a few pleasantries and shook hands. My mom, a former politician, was thrilled to meet her and I was thrilled for my mom. The quilt made it into Hilary Weston's speech which was aired on television and into the National Post.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Postcard: Stephen Hender

Pisa, Italy 
While in university, I had little money for extras but I still needed beauty and inspiration. This image taken by Stephen Hender in Pisa, Italy provided both and has brought me much comfort and pleasure over the years since those lean student days. 

Monday, 26 December 2011

Quotes: Arthur Schopenhauer

"Boredom is just the reverse side of fascination: both depend on being outside rather than inside a situation, and one leads to the other." – Arthur Schopenhauer, German Philosopher, 1788-1860

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Books: Nancy Crow

Since today is the first day of Winter, I thought it would be appropriate for Nancy Crow's joy-drenched quilts to brighten your day. Early in her career, Nancy Crow made elaborate quilts that required templates and fussy piecing. Just looking at them made me tired: I couldn't imagine the amount of patience required to design and make each quilt. Thankfully Nancy Crow's inordinate patience wore off and she began to dye her own fabrics and to piece quilts intuitively. The new work is peaceful and engaging. This book was published in 2006 and is still available from the US Amazon site. 

An ideal evening is to dig out this book, along with my Gee's Bend and Lance Letscher books and to absorb the images just before going to bed, so that my dreams are infused with colour and pattern.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Studio Series: Before & During Collages III

Original Collage, 2008
Final collage, October 2011 © Karen Thiessen 2011
Of my Before and During Collages, this is my favourite to date. I'm thinking of digitally printing it on fabric so that I can use it in a textile project. My autumn project of resolving old collages was successful– I fixed over 20 collages and recycled a few. I'm now making new "bad" collages to give me something to amend the next time I need to "prime the pump." 

It just occurred to me that few of you know what priming the pump means. To prime the pump means to add liquid to a pump to expel the air so that it works. Long ago, you would add a cup of water to a water pump so that the pump would draw up the water from a well. I remember adding water to the top of the old farm pump, the feel and smell of the iron handle in my hand, and how as the water came up, it would be harder to pump, the thrill that I had when water gushed from the spout of this old technology, and finally the smell of my hand afterwards (an iron smell). Nowadays priming the pump means to do something in order to make something succeed.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Postcards: Kathleen Weich

The above Kathleen Weich postcard is a 2004 Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition find. This series of paintings was inspired by the Gee's Bend quilts, which at the time were taking the art world by storm. Oh how I wish I could have afforded one of these paintings, but my hubby and I were only into year three of an interminable house renovation. That's what we get for buying the worst house in a nice neighbourhood. Naturally, Weich has moved onto other painting subjects, but I still yearn for one of these beauties.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Love by Mail

Canada Post service is irregular these days. I'll go an entire week without mail and then receive it twice in one day. This surprise arrived in a second mail delivery in the early evening (It is odd to get mail at night!). My friend Sal and her daughter Sophie felted this brooch just for me and I love it! When I wear the brooch, I'm carrying the love of my friends over my heart. My hubby says that the brooch and the card look like a nebula in a field of stars. Handmade gifts are the best.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Books: The Quilts of Gee's Bend

In 2003 I was an artist-in-residence in the textile studio at Harbourfront, which was a hub of activity and opportunity. One opportunity for which I am grateful was an invitation to take a private workshop with some of the ladies of Gee's Bend fame. We were a small group that gathered in the costume studio for Mirvish productions and I lucked into being Mary Lee Bendolph's workshop assistant. She is a natural storyteller and I was all ears. After the workshop I high-tailed it to David Mirvish Books where I bought this The Quilts of Gee's Bend book and soaked in a small exhibit of Gee's Bend quilts. Whether you are a graphic designer, an architect, or a textile artist, this book will inspire. Beyond the gorgeous colour images, the women's stories are engaging and occasionally heart-breaking.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Studio Series: Before & During Collages II

December 2008 Original collage
November 2011 Amended collage in progress
The tricky thing about working on old collages is that the layers build up to the point that the pieces become lumpy. To take the bottom collage any further, I'll need to scan it, print it on good paper, and then add more layers. Sure, I could play with it in Photoshop but I like the physicality of sorting through my papers, cutting them up, using my UHU gluestick to adhere the next paper fragment to the collage, and then covering it with a piece of waxed paper and rolling over it with my acrylic brayer. If you look closely at the bottom image, you can still see some traces of the original collage. The top collage is from December 2008 and the last time I touched the bottom collage was in November 2011.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Postcards: Quilts from Gee's Bend

Are you one of the lucky folks who have seen the Gee's Bend quilts in person? One day I would love to see the full exhibition if it continues to travel North America. In the meantime, I have fond memories of meeting three of the quiltmakers (I can't remember which of the four couldn't make it to the Toronto opening), assisting Mary Lee Bendolph in a workshop, and seeing a small exhibit at the now closed David Mirvish Books.

Friday, 9 December 2011


The Christmas season is my least favourite time of year and I have learned that this is when I most need to practice self-care. For me this means taking a 45 minute walk during my lunch hour, reading mystery novels in the evening, eating healthy food, and practicing yoga every day. Self-care also means digging into studio work, journalling, and good visits with friends and family balanced by solitude. Practicing self-care is not indulgent: it allows me to be a better friend, partner, sister, daughter, community member, and artist. How do you take care of yourself?

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Books: Lance Letscher Collage

Lance Letscher Collage is a thick, gorgeous book generously stocked with large colour photographs and a few secrets tucked here and there. I've had this book for a few years and it continues to give me immense pleasure. Whenever I need a hit of high voltage inspiration, I pull this out along with my Gees Bend and Nancy Crow quilt books. Letscher's collages read partly as paintings, partly as textiles. Given the density of this book, the low price is another treat. What art books inspire you?

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Studio Series: Before & During Collages

In order to dive back into my full studio practice after a summer of distraction, I needed to "prime the pump." This meant that I cleaned, organized, purged, and gave my attention to unfinished projects. In my flat file I found a pile of early collages from 2005 to 2008. Most were rough. Okay, they were bad. Bad collages offer something to respond to, so I did. The top collage was from January 25, 2007 and I cleaned it up in November 2011. What's great about working on old collages is that there is no blank slate to paralyze me. Since the work is already bad, there's no risk. No risk = no fear (a.k.a. resistance). If it doesn't still doesn't work after some tweaking, I can cut it up and rearrange it, or I can toss it into the recycle bin. Attacking old work is the best way to ease or dive back into a studio practice. How do you deal with resistance?

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Postcards: Adam Gibbs Tjapaltjarri

It's that time of year where I seek images of comfort. This postcard has been with me fourteen years and I carry it wherever we move. 1997 found us living in Singapore. Singapore is a major travel hub, so naturally we travelled to Australia, Bali, Malaysia, and Thailand. We landed in Sydney at the tail-end of a hot spell. For us Canucks, it was still waaaay too hot. Eight days in Sydney gave us a much-needed break from the chaos and noise of Singapore. We found a lovely Bed-and-Breakfast in Balmain, a charming suburb of Sydney. Balmain and nearby Rozelle offered small town friendliness with city amenities. Along the main street in Rozelle, I found this postcard. Aboriginal art exudes soul, connection, mindfulness. If I were patient enough to meditate, I would focus my attention on this image. Perhaps just taking it in is a form of meditation.

In case you are curious, this painting depicts "Men's Ceremonial site at a rockhole near Lake MacDonald" by Papunya Tula artist Adam Gibbs Tjapaltjarri of the Western Desert. Craig Lamotte photographed the painting.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Quotes: Mary Oliver


It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

– Mary Oliver, Thirst, 2006

Friday, 2 December 2011

Books: The Elements

This book is proof that I really really love my husband. And that I can't keep a secret from him. A smart person would buy this as a birthday or Christmas gift. Noooo, not me. My guy is a science and math geek and I knew that he wanted this book the moment our nephew showed it to him. When it arrived in the mail I considered hiding it until Christmas, but I was too excited to wait to see his surprise and obvious pleasure. On cool evenings you'll find us sitting in our cosy family room in front of a fire. Hubby will be reading about the periodic table of elements and I'll be reading an art or design book. Yes, each in our own way, we are nerds.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Studio series: Forgiveness #5

Forgiveness #5 © Karen Thiessen 1999; Photo credit: Julian Beveridge
Forgiveness #5 is part of the Journey Series. The central panel was rusted using the heating grates from my parents' old farmhouse that I "rescued" from the scrap metal bin that dad kept behind the barn. When it was full, he would sell it to the metal recycler. (Hey dad, I only took one!) The farmhouse had gravity heat which meant that the upstairs bedrooms where my brother and I slept were cold in the winter. They were so cold that I would etch pictures on my frost-covered bedroom window. Obviously, gravity was not my friend. The furnace was a giant octopus heated with oil that had been converted from coal. It looked like an alien from Lost in Space.

The other quilt panels were also rust-stained and either dyed with onion skins or stained with blood. The striped fabric on the right edge was once my studio curtain in our first house. The quilt is machine-pieced and hand-quilted. Working to deadline, I quilted the Forgiveness #5 in 24 hours. It is in the collection of Bob and Michelle of Letraset Love fame.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Postcards: Kim Adams

Being married to Kim Adams would be tricky. He collects a lot of strange stuff. I collect a lot of strange stuff. Our home and studios would be chaos. Also, I'm already married. The Bruegel-Bosch Bus is a permanent fixture at the Art Gallery of Hamilton and is located in a light-filled gallery on the second floor. To give you a sense of its scale, that really is a 1960s Volkswagon bus that in its previous life may have been driven by hippies from their commune to attend Woodstock – you just never know. Hey, did you notice that the Volkswagon symbol is upside down? If you happen to be in Hamilton, check out the Bruegel-Bosch Bus. Kids love it and so do I. P.S. If you look carefully through the driver's door, you'll see an X-rated appendage on the driver. Hee hee.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Quotes: Marianne Vespry

Ohne Titel 3 © Karen Thiessen 2009
gothic text
obscured by
dripping paint

other alphabet

pale block
ohne Text

textile square
firmly mounted
crocheted doily
strange bead
sewed to 

spilled meaning
ohne Ende

- Poem by Marianne Vespry in response to Karen Thiessen's Ohne Titel #3

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Day In & Day Out First Anniversary!

Today is the first anniversary of this little blog! Thank you all for visiting me here. You come from 83 countries, some of which I had never heard of before, so as I learn to blog, I'm also getting a geography lesson. 

Thanks again,

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Studio Series: Red: Dim sum

Red: Dim Sum © Karen Thiessen, 2001. Photo Credit: Julian Beveridge
Dim Sum is one of my favourite textiles. It is composed of fabrics that I rust stained and then over-painted with screen-printing pigments, plus 14 brass washers. It was influenced by our time living in Singapore where red and gold were auspicious colours, dim sum was served here and there, and old Chinese coins were round with holes in them. The funny thing is that my husband and I rarely ate dim sum in Singapore, since we mostly ate in Hawker centres but now that we are back in North America, we have it most weekends. Our Singapore diet consisted of satay with compressed rice and peanut sauce, Hainanese chicken rice, banana leaf curry, claypot rice, durian, mangosteens, rambutans, lychees, longans, coconut water, and more. Mmm, this is making me hungry.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Postcards: June Clark

June Clark, Dirge 2003, 91.5 X 130.3 cm 
I bought this postcard from the Textile Museum of Canada gift shop years ago and then was pleased to see the actual piece exhibited in the now closed David Mirvish Books. Harlem-born June Clark resides in Toronto. She's a jet-setter, having had artist residencies in Paris, Harlem, and Toronto. Dirge was made from rusted metals that Clark collected. Her original intention was to make a map of the world, but then she realized that the world wasn't going to pot, the U.S. was. You can learn more about Dirge from her video. Like Clark, I have a soft spot for rust.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Quotes: Shaw + Ulrich

Here's to the trail-blazers, s.d.'s and prophets in our midst, those folks that society tries to shut up and stop: 

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man." – George Bernard Shaw

"Well-behaved women seldom make history." – Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Friday, 18 November 2011

Books: Kurt Schwitters Color and Collage

I am a lucky gal and this book is the proof. For six years I've been looking for an affordable book about Kurt Schwitters with no success until now. The other day I made an excursion out to Toronto's West Queen West and popped by Type Books on a whim. There I found this beauty for only $50 Canadian. On I could buy the same book for $546.47!

At the beginning of my collage education I pored through my teacher's Schwitters books and on occasion I would try to emulate him. His collages look so simple, so easy, but six years ago I couldn't come close to achieving his style. Schwitters' collages are well-planned. Look at the second image. Do you see how the red, black, and white squares move your eye through space? Awesome, isn't it?

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Patterns from the Everyday II

Artists collect the oddest things. We see potential in ordinary things like twigs, seeds, sidewalk detritus, and yes, bones. I dug out the big camera and played with photographing objects on my copy stand (an old enlarger converted to hold a camera). I tossed a handful of chicken bones (from my former chicken wing habit) onto the paper and snapped a picture thinking that I was wasting time but going ahead with the impulse. On their own they don't look that interesting, but put into repeat they made a rather nice pattern. Wouldn't it be fun to paper the wall of a kitchen with this? OK, maybe not for vegans.
Dem Bones Pattern © Karen Thiessen 2011

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Studio series: Mennonitemare #3

Mennonitemare #3 is an early quilt that I made while I was a student at Sheridan College. Mennonitemare is a play on words: Mennonite + nightmare. The building is the Mennonite church floating through space. I dyed and silkscreened most of the fabrics, then hand-stitched the whole thing while watching truly bad TV until all hours of the morning. The quilt addresses the issues of sexual abuse in the Mennonite church. It incorporates textiles silk-screened with articles about abuse from a national Mennonite newspaper along with textiles printed with images of a security grill from a court house. The cheerful colours of the quilt draw you in and then whomp! you with surprise once you start reading the text. Tricky, very tricky.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Dirt vs. Soil

As a former farm girl and a present-day gardener, I wince when I hear people talk about planting their gardens or houseplants in dirt. Dirt is the stuff you wash off your car and sweep off your porch. Soil is the stuff in which you plant seeds, trees and plants. To me soil represents fertility: the substance that will support life. Dirt calls to mind soil stripped of all its nutrients: a worthless substance. To be fair, some farms are just dirt because they've been over-farmed and they must rely on chemical fertilizers to be of any good, but that's a whole other topic. Whew, I'm glad I got that off my chest! =)

Postcards: Liss Platt

Liss Platt is brilliant. That's my opinion and I'm sticking to it. When I saw her installation of postcards printed with candy papering the walls of an alcove of the McMaster Museum of Art, I was mesmerized. I'm a sucker (pun intended) for pattern and modular art. If you haven't figured it out, an image of Platt's work is in the middle. The candy patterns are from her Comfort series. She has also done a series of Spirograph digital prints (another obsession of mine). Candy + Spirograph + pattern = fun, fun, fun!

Monday, 14 November 2011

Quotes: Bourgeois

"Tell your own story, and you will be interesting. Don't get the green disease of envy. Don't be fooled by success and money. Don't let anything come between you and your work." – Louise Bourgeois, French-American artist

Friday, 11 November 2011

Marla Panko: Detours & Hybrids

Marla Panko Trojan Horse 2010, 10" X 16" acrylic
Marla Panko Faktura I to VI 2011
Marla Panko Neubecker II 2011, 7" X 5.5"
Marla Panko Study I 2011, 6" X 7.5" acrylic
Marla Panko's exhibition Detours and Hybrids at the Carnegie Gallery came down at the end of October, but it's still worth highlighting. The show was a mix of paintings, collages, prints, textiles, and sculptures. Panko's collages and paintings are her strong suit, although the Faktura sculptures were noteworthy. My favourite pieces were the collages: Neubecker I to IV and Bounce, Slice, Stack, and Sparkle. Because they were all framed behind glass, I was only able to photograph Neubecker II. You can view her collage drawings Bounce, Slice, etc. on her website here. Panko's collages look simple and spare, but they contain layers of information that you notice only from looking at them for long periods of time. Whether it's a subtle line here or a small jolt of colour there, each element is well-considered.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Children's art

A highlight of the last month was drawing with my four-year-old cousin. I met Braden for the first time at an extended family gathering and we clicked. He expressed an interest in drawing with me and I was surprised by his precise description of colour. He asked for a green that had a bit of grey in it and for a blue that had a bit of purple in it (not shown in this picture of a dinosaur). With such an early understanding of colour he could be the next Ellsworth Kelly, if it isn't hammered out of him.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Studio series: Ohne Titel 1

Ohne Titel 1 © Karen Thiessen 2009
Since mid-September I've been living in my studio, putting in joyously long hours during the week and then prying myself away for the weekend. I've been purging excess paper and finishing unresolved collages. As I sorted through my flat file, I found a lot of bad collages. Some I tossed into the recycle bin, some I cut up into 2 inch squares for use in my ongoing Day In Day Out project, and others I attempted to rescue. Out of my efforts, I've resolved over 20 collages out of my flat file pile, with still more needing attention (or recycling). In rescue mode, I realized that I like having something to respond to: it's better than beginning with a blank slate. 

Ohne Titel 1 began as a series of crappy collages on panel. Yes, it was another problem child. With nothing to lose, I painted, collaged and played with string art for the first time since grade 5. It was exhibited in the Painters and Potters Show at the Carnegie Gallery in 2009. 

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Postcards: Gary Taxali

Gary Taxali's art makes me smile. I picked up this postcard from his 2007 solo show, Last Year's Winner, at Magic Pony in Toronto. Until I checked his website, I thought the text said: "Fred 24 hours." Nope. Regardless, angry Fred is pretty flexible given how he can clasp his hands behind his back and up away from his torso. I can do it. Can you? A sixteen year long yoga practice is good for something.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Quotes: Häberli

"To be creative I need books, art, objects, materials, colours and daylight. And silence." 
– Alfredo Häberli, Buenos Aires-born designer (from Elle Decoration U.K., November 2009, p.101)

Friday, 4 November 2011

More Sandra Brownlee: Tactile Notebooks Workshop

* Welcome to all you who are visiting from India Flint's blog. The following links to posts about Sandra Brownlee give a better overview of her work (with better images): Sandra essay part one, part two, part three, and more. Thanks for visiting! (January 22, 2012)
textile by Jan Baker
This Fall I'm back in the studio in a big way, to the degree that my sleep is compromised – and I'm loving it. The Sandra Brownlee workshop that I took this past June at the Contemporary Textile Studio Co-op in Toronto is influencing my thinking. If you ever have a chance to take a workshop with Sandra Brownlee, take it. You'll learn a lot from her and your fellow classmates, but I warn you, it may affect your sleep.