Sunday, 17 July 2016


CLD Vaudreuil-Soulanges is a non-profit organization which coordinates various support services for entrepreneurs.  It also promotes industrial development, trade, tourism, and the rural and agri-food industry within the Vaudreuil-Soulanges territory.  

The CLD along with the Conseil des arts et de la culture de Vaudreuil-Soulanges (Council of Arts and Culture of Vaudreuil-Soulanges) commissioned multidisciplinary artist Tina Struthers and me to create an original work for the Tourist Information Centre in Île-Perrot, Québec.

The mission of this cultural project was threefold:
  1. to anchor the renewal of the Tourist Information Centre in collaboration with the City of Île-Perrot;
  2. to give artistic life to the new regional brand of "Vaudreuil-Soulanges Tourisme" launched in May;
  3. to demonstrate the strength and effervescence that occurs when the arts and business sectors mesh.
The juried call for proposals specified a preference for:
  • 3-dimensional aerial work, colourful and transparent, for a space with high ceilings and an abundance of natural light;
  • submissions from artist collectives (2 or 3 artists); 
  • works created using the principals of waste management (reduction at source, reuse, recycling, valuation).

The opportunity was so unusual and exciting that Tina and I couldn't resist submitting a proposal.  We had to come up with a concept. 

We priced possible alternatives using plexiglas but costs were prohibitive and this alternative didn't meet the waste management criterion.  Another solution had to be found.

My partner and I had recently removed grape vines from along our waterfront property on the Ottawa River and in so doing, discovered a treasure trove of driftwood floating onshore.  I collected and propped each piece against a nearby tree.  They were just too beautiful to discard and had to become works of art.  I told Tina about my find and she came to view my wondrous cache.  

We discussed what we could possibly create with this gift from the river and came up with our concept: to create suspended abstracted birds using the driftwood as bodies and recycled papers and fabrics for wings. We decided that the colours of the birds should reflect those of the new "Vaudreuil-Soulanges Tourisme" logo.  

PROCESS "Vol vers l'avenir" (Flight towards the future):

Each bird took anywhere from 6 to 18 hours to create.  Holes were drilled into the driftwood after which we attached wires to create wings.  

Paper or fabric, or a combination of both was glued to the wire using acrylic medium.  What a messy job! We spent a lot of time peeling it off our fingers and used heaps of hand cream to keep our skin from drying out.  

Once the wings were shaped, paint or varnish was applied.  Keeping transparency specifications in mind, we glazed the paper birds and left gaps in the fabric wings to let light shine through.  Colours based on the new logo served to visually link our flock of birds together.

We arranged the birds by colour on a tarp to prepare for varnishing.  UV varnish protects the colour and wood from the sun's rays.  This type of varnish smells foul (fowl?) so we were glad to be outside.

Most of the birds were installed on July 5th.  We're still tying up loose ends, making a few more birds for the unveiling on July 21st.  Almost ready for takeoff!

Friday, 15 July 2016


Left foot of my 102-year-old Mom
My mother, born in 1914, came from a rural family where clothing was passed down from child to child. This practice led to unfortunate consequences when it came to footwear.  Mom had to fit her feet into her older sister's outgrown shoes. Her sibling surely had much smaller feet because even after she outgrew her shoes, they were still too small for my mom.  

While the impact of wearing shoes that didn't fit was not as devastating for my mother as the tradition of foot binding was for many women from the 11th to the 20th centuries, I can't help but reflect on this barbaric custom whenever I see my mother's feet. Young Chinese girls suffered constant pain from broken bones and infection to embody an ideal (tiny, broken lotus feet for tiny "lotus shoes").

Mom's feet didn't break but they did warp.  She said no one knew any better in those days, adult shoes were adult shoes; no one really worried about sizes or long-term consequences.  

Things were far better when I grew up.  Each time Mom and I went shoe shopping for my rapidly growing feet, I spent a lot of fun time wiggling my toes inside the shoe store's x-ray machine which, in the fifties and sixties, guaranteed a perfect fit. Savage brand footwear was a particular favourite, especially navy blue and white saddle shoes.  To this day, I long to find a pair to satisfy my nostalgic cravings.  

I wonder whether women who wear today's exceptionally high heels are aware of the damage they inflict on their feet in the name of beauty.  (In my opinion, it's not worth it!)  And what of dancers?  Ballerinas in pointe shoes wreck their toesies for art!  

It remains a woman's issue it seems...  

Red Cactus

Wednesday, 22 June 2016


I'm seriously involved in a couple of art projects and find myself torn....

Should I write? (I'm neglecting my blog.)  Should I paint?  (I'm working on a piece but must put it aside for now.)  What are my deadlines?  Can I meet them and still do everything? Can I forego a few hours of sleep tonight?  Will it affect my energy level?  What about applications for shows, publications, other venues?  

Time management is important. Getting sick is not an option.  (It took me over two months to get over that nasty virus I picked up in California. A friend told me that according to her doctor, it becomes more and more difficult to shake bugs off as one gets older.  Any more good news?)

What is fascinating about a career in the arts is that so much of what an artist does is unrelated to the actual act of creation.  In my previous "day" job, I had a relatively high degree of variety when it came to counselling, but a good part of my other functions were routine and familiar.  

With art, variety is a constant.  Besides creating, the job of "Josephine Artist" entails: administration, accounting, marketing, writing, sales, negotiation, teaching, research, purchasing, public relations, networking, and event planning.  I'm sure I'm forgetting some.  Artists aren't necessarily good at everything but we certainly are versatile.  Torn is far better than bored.

Sunday, 5 June 2016


"No one reads anymore!"

....that's what a marketing whiz recently told me as we discussed the best ways for artists to promote themselves.  Although my hairs stood on end, I had to admit to that his advice was targeted and wise.  One of Picasso's process videos is now a national treasure.

The advantages of video demonstrations are obvious.  I refer to them myself when I want a quick overview of a "how to", but I also get frustrated when video tries to teach me something at a speed that rivals that of a jet airplane.  I was interested in learning animation software a few months ago.  No written material was provided, only quickie video tutorials.  I ached for a text where I could take the time to learn particular step before moving onto the next one.  "Stop the video!" I hear you cry, but it isn't like reading.  Old habits die hard.

As an educator, I feel that learning is best approached by stimulating as many of the senses as possible. There are many ways to assimilate information: seeing, hearing, touching, feeling, trying, smelling, tasting, repeating, memorizing, and practicing.  Video remains part of a whole.

I refuse to acknowledge the "death" of reading.  Unhurried and deliberate acquisition of knowledge via a book is a magical experience.  The smell and feel of paper, its constant visual presence on a bookshelf remains unrivalled.  Give me a small funky bookstore to spend an afternoon in any day.

BUT, and it's a big BUT, video offers excitement.  It's alive!  I love seeing Picasso play with paint and occasionally peer goofily into the camera.  A genius self-marketer, he understood the power of film. 

With cellphones, anyone can create a moving image.  Mark Zuckerberg says he wouldn't be surprised if in five years, video content is all that people will share on a day-to-day basis.

So here is my first attempt.  Interestingly, I had more views on my artist Facebook page from this video than from any previous post.  This Brussels Sprout Head painting "in progress" appears on YouTube.  If you go there via this blogpost, I will assume that reading is still alive and kicking.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016


Penitentiary tourist attractions may not be on everyone's top ten list of things to visit while on vacation. Those who love exploring these types of "heritage sites" are usually enthralled by stories of convicts and escape attempts.  I visited two prisons over the years and surprisingly, on both occasions, was aesthetically overwhelmed. 

YEAR 2000

Freemantle Prison also known as Freemantle Gaol in Western Australia was built by prisoners.  Cells were unbelievably small sans flushing toilets.  Poo pails were de rigueur until the prison closed its doors in 1991.  Conditions were far from ideal.

Art rehabilitation?  There was no such thing and drawing or painting on cell walls was strictly taboo.  Only one inmate was allowed to draw on walls during his incarceration because it had a calming effect on his personality (no da).  This policy was nixed one year before the prison ceased its operations.  

Various characters populated the jail but I was particularly taken by inmate James Walsh.  A forger, he was a gifted artist who kept creating despite regulations. He drew beautiful work on his cell walls but managed to hide everything under a mixture of porridge and whitewash (I have no idea how or where he got the whitewash). His creations were accidentally discovered when some of the porridge mixture chipped off.  Below is what James Walsh achieved against all odds.  Mind boggling!

When I visited, sunlight cast barred shadows on the walls.  Perhaps the dim stripes added to the ambiance.  

Many artists painted their walls during the last year of the penitentiary's existence.  How incongruous that Freemantle Prison now offers art tours.  

Vibrant, colourful art by Aboriginal artists is everywhere.  A cheap camera and poor lighting conditions don't do these paintings justice.

YEAR 2016

I recently went to northern California and towards the end of the trip managed a visit to Alcatraz.  In light of Freemantle prison, I had serious expectations.  I was not disappointed, however the wall art of Alcatraz was not created by inmates.  It materialized due to the passage of time and decay.

Disrepair, corrosion, erosion generally beg for change.  In this day and age the mantra is RENOVATE PLEASE!  When I went to Havana, Cuba for instance, architectural jewels were disintegrating and the government was frantically attempting to save the buildings that it could.  Contrasts were striking. Crumbling surfaces startlingly complemented the new fresh coats of paint and materials.

Colours and textures that arise from decay and decomposition can be a source of inspiration.  The naturally decomposing cells of Alcatraz give rise to exquisite abstract compositions.  I played a bit in my Gimp software with photographs that I took on my phone.  Below is the source picture and my quickie modifications.  It's a starting point.


Artmaking was allowed at Alcatraz as shown in the cell below.  I was intrigued by the cast shadow in the upper right hand part of the photograph. 

Isolation:  these are the colours of the hole.

Disintegrating flush toilets result in amazing textures and abstract compositions.

Crumbling toilets, associations overflow!  

Humanity, poignancy, debasement, desecration, justice, injustice, defilement, coarseness, grain, distress, granular, spirit, skin, cycle, nature, history, death...  

Beauty exists everywhere but I always thought it unlikely that I would ever be seduced by a toilet.

Monday, 2 May 2016


Someone recently asked me: "What do Cyclops represent, for you?"  They do keep cropping up in my artwork now and again, and lately with some frequency. 

The question motivated me to do a bit of research.

Like most of us, my initial exposure to Cyclops was in childhood.  I owned a book filled with stories about giants.  Although I can't recall any details, there must have been a special tale about Cyclops. 

The cover of the book was plain, medium blue in colour, without a jacket or pictures.  Only words, beautiful words.  Imaginary creatures took on monumental dimensions in my mind.  

One day my book disappeared.  I hunted high and low throughout the mess that was my room but it was nowhere to be found.  I later surmised that my mom probably threw it out when she thought I'd outgrown it. Sad because artists rarely outgrow giants.

As a young teen, I found a book at the city library called The Third Eye by Lobsang Rampa (formerly known as Cyril Henry Hoskin).  According to Wikipedia, it came out in 1956.  The novel (autobiography?) had an impact on my malleable mind by suggesting (promoting?) new ways of looking at life.  Imaginative fiction disguised as reality, it was intriguing for a small town girl.  The author wrote about Tibet and Buddhism. Surprisingly, British-born Rampa ended up living and dying in Canada.

In my 2012 blog post Cyclopean Eyes, I mentioned that my Cyclops rarely have one eye located mid-forehead but recently things have changed.  In the interpretation below, a single eye occupies an entire third of the face. 

Deep thoughts about Cyclops (kinda rhymes):

MONSTERS - Human beings turn into monsters for many reasons: too much plastic surgery, bulimia, booze and drugs, overeating, stress; the list could go on ad infinitum.  Other folks are just really nasty inside.  I for one, become a grumpy and achingly sluggish monster when I have to wake up in the wee hours of the morning.  My feet drag like those of waiters in Montreal's Chinatown restaurants.  My eyes fuse and become a single slit.

GIANTS Traditionally, Cyclops are gargantuan.  Mine are average-sized Joes who possess only one eye. I do play with scale though. Maximizing and minimizing elements or characters increases emotional impact.

FOCUS - Continuous bombardment from the media, advertising, telemarketers along with societal pressure to overachieve makes it difficult to concentrate on what's really important in life.  One eye improves focus and enables filtering.

IDIOMS, EXPRESSIONS, SAYINGS - If I look up the word "eye" in an idiom or expression dictionary, I'll be "up to my eyeball" in possibilities and busy for at least a year.

INCONGRUITY - The Online Cambridge Dictionary defines incongruity as 'unusual or different from what is around or from what is generally happening'.  Let's face it.  One eye stands out from the pack.  

Cyclops are unique.   Mythology is merely a point of departure.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016


At thirty thousand feet I no longer had ears.
Infected, nothing really mattered,
so I closed my eyes.

They were piled high on my lap.
An accordion of tissues.
A safety net.

almost a doze  
but not quite, I found a 
space, a beautiful nowhere space.

In what?
A golden womb, a warm yellow veil 
for minutes,
in a beautiful nowhere place.

No longer found, no longer felt.
To think of again but gone.
No longer found, no longer felt.
It's gone, long gone.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016


After months of doing digital work, I'm back to getting my hands dirty.  While technology seduces with its potentiality, it has limitations.  Art software provides unusual solutions to problems quickly but at a cost. What's missing?  Odours, mistakes, unwanted fingerprints.

In a previous blogpost "The Family", I wrote of being inspired by a project that I gave students in my creativity class.  After drawing "The Brussels Sprouts Family" in pen and ink, I was motivated to push the idea a bit further.

The process has been an odd one, an experiment of sorts.  I bought little plastic bottles, a new product that I recently discovered at the local art shop.  The containers function as markers when filled with paint, either acrylics or watercolour.  

For the multimedia drawing below, I mixed fluid acrylics with airbrush medium (half and half); a bit too runny for my taste but I thought why not let the paint flow à la Jackson Pollock?  I made a very wet, uncontrolled outline of a brussels sprouts plant to create a cloisonniste effect (used extensively by Émile Bernard, Gauguin and Rouault).  I let it dry, it took forever.  Then I arbitrarily applied thin coats of watercolour here and there and waited some more.  

I started at the bottom and worked my way up.  The lower sprout shapes were spaced further apart than those higher up the stalk.  Close up shots reveal how the work evolved.  I studied each circle and let the colours and lines trigger ideas.  Each little cabbage head reminded me of individuals.  Using archival markers, watercolour and acrylic paint, I began to forge characters.  

 Expressions took shape.

Surprisingly, I drew far more male faces.  I generally prefer depicting women the likes of Dolly Parton.  

The fellow below on the right, initially reminded me of a samurai warrior.  A metamorphosis happened and before long, he grew into a wonky Major General from the Pirates of Penzance.

I enjoyed coming up with five o'clock shadows and hairy bits.  Males tend to have more of the latter except for young American men who now seem obsessed with the removal of their body hair.  What a shame.  Tom Selleck's chest is way more fun to draw.

Odd personalities from Dickens, Victor Hugo, Hokusai, Da Vinci and Ralph Steadman simmered in the cauldron of my psyche. The safety pin on the punk on the right appeared after I recalled one of my former students coming to class with blood on his cheeks.  Worried (in mother mode), I asked him what was wrong.  Craving another piercing, he had hastily incised his eyebrow with a safety pin.  

I never forgot him.

Humans often resemble other living creatures.  The individual above seemed frog-like to me.  

The spherical shapes in the upper part of the stalk grew larger.  Each bit player became more complex and modern.

The top of the plant is asphyxiating.  Tangled heads are wedged into a small confined area.  The diameter of the stalk is underdeveloped, not mature enough to provide a comfortable distance for its inhabitants.

Below is the finished work.  
Much is packed into this 8" X 16" sheet of paper.  

Small is sometimes long and thin.