Just a small selection of the 1,500 or so rust, peeling paint, graffiti, old china, wallpaper etc photos I’ve collected.
It’s a rainy day here in Vancouver. The first of many, I suspect. But, to quote one of my mother’s many handy sayings, “every cloud has a silver lining.” These grey, wet days are perfect for heading out and adding to my “texture” photo collection.
I think it started with the battleship linoleum on out bathroom floor when I was little. I used to stare at it and could see several distinct scenes of action. The one I remember most clearly was a lion swimming in a strong current of green swirling water. In those distant pre-internet (even pre-TV) days, I used to make up stories about the world within the lino. More recently, I was sure that this intersection of green and blue looked, if you squint a bit, like a tropical oasis.
So began a lifelong fascination with patterns and pictures in the most unlikely places – rust, lichen, water, grating, reflections, lace, wallpaper, ice, fibreglass, peeling paint. Often to the exasperation of my long-suffering family. A few years ago I was in London with my son, then eighteen. As I crouched over a rusty grating to take the hundredth photo of the day, he said, “do you hear that”. I said “what?” and he replied, “it’s the sound of my eyes rolling”. I smile every time I hunker down to take yet another picture in the gutter or on a fence. I find it best to go solo on these expeditions these days!
I just checked the “textures” folder on my computer. It contains 1488 images. I’ve taken many more times that number of this type photos, but these are the ones I’ve chosen to save. What do I do with them all? Some of them end up as images in their own right, large canvases or prints. I love the fact that some of my favourite and most striking images come from extremely humble origins.
This slightly Gustav Klimt-inspired piece is actually a section of a burned out and rusted car I found deep in the woods in northern British Columbia.
This rather spectacular study of blue and orange was created by the wear pattern of a chain on a dumpster in the far corner of the parking lot of my local Costco.
Spectacular Rust on a Dumpster in our Local Costco Parking Lot
Some of the images are just fun – taken often around the house, like this one looking into a green plastic glass. I haven’t quite figured out a purpose for this one yet.
Most of the texture team play a supporting role in other images, layered to add depth (both in terms of meaning and visual interest). Every time I go back to the North East of England where I grew up, one of the things on my “must do” list is to climb up the 325 narrow winding steps of the tower at Durham Cathedral. From the top is a breath-taking panoramic view of the town and surrounding countryside. But the journey up the tower is fascinating too, as the stone walls have been embellished with graffiti – ancient and modern.
Layer upon layer of human efforts to leave a mark.
I’ve used images of the tower walls layered in some of my images of contemporary Vancouver crows. In combining the images I’m trying to keep memories of my UK background current in my daily crow-filled Vancouver life. I’m thinking about how crows are both ancient and modern and, like people, prone to mischief. I’m sure they’d be prolific graffiti artists, if only they had opposable thumbs. And maybe, if we don’t get our human act together — crows and the ruins of Durham Cathedral may perhaps outlast us all …
Some textures are used to make jewellery. One of my most popular designs is “Ribbon”. This abstract striped pattern comes from a photograph of prismatic tape I found hanging in a physics lab. It’s silvery surface is designed to reflect different light waves, creating and ever-changing combination of colour and pattern and it moves in the breeze.
Many of the images I take don’t even make it to the “textures” vault on the computer. Often they’re taken with my phone and see the light of day on my Instagram account. Lots of others flit across my Facebook page.
Still nice and cloudy out there. Better grab the camera and head out in search of some lovely rust or mouldering plywood!
The Blog Hop project is a world-wide thread in which bloggers talk about their creative processes.
As I’m pretty new to the world of blogging, I was honoured (and a wee bit intimidated) to be asked to participate in this blog hop project by Canmore artist and brilliant blogger, Linda Cote. I’ve admired Linda’s work online for a while but had the great pleasure of meeting her in person when she was in Vancouver this spring. We had a lovely morning of coffee and chat and she subsequently wrote a most splendid blog posting about the meeting. Linda is an accomplished print maker, her inspiration being the abundant natural beauty found in her spectacular part of the world. One of her works, a baby raven, has pride of place on my living room cabinet.
All of my work starts with my own nature-inspired photography. These images pass through my brain, computer and hands to become various kinds of artifacts — jewellery, tiles, prints and mixed media. I’m lucky enough to work from my home studio in East Vancouver and sell my work at local markets, through some galleries and online via Etsy and my web-site.
So, on to the Blog Hop questions
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON?
Like most artists, I’m perpetually stirring a bubbling cauldron with many ingredients. I’m always, always taking photographs. That’s just like breathing for me. A quick picture of a bird in the garden, a special trip to the mountains in search of ravens, or a shot of some sunlit rust that I noticed on the way to the post office – photography goes on 24/7. I’m constantly working on new tiles, prints and mixed media to fill orders from online customers, galleries, and to have ready to sell at local markets, or directly from my studio. I also design jewellery – incorporating my images with silver and resin. My daughter, Lily, makes the jewellery in the studio, and I keep her busy with new designs.
My particular passion at the moment is mixed media and I’m working on a new line of pieces that I call the Parlour Portrait series. They are meant to evoke the formal family portraits that would, in days of old, have taken pride of place in the “best” room of the house. In my mythological parlour, a the definition of “family” is much broader, including crows, cats, robins, ravens, dogs and squirrels.
One of the elements of the Parlour Portrait series that has me so excited is putting the image on metal leaf. As a photographer, I’m acutely aware of light. I love to keep reincorporating “light” into my work even as the original image is morphed into various objects. I design my jewellery so that the light bounces off the silver behind the image, giving it the illusion of being lit from within. I’m excited to have discovered a way to achieve this effect in my mixed media by using metal leaf behind the images. It’s something like alchemy, because you never quite know how—or if — it’s going to work until it’s done. And that’s addictive to me – I just can’t wait to get out to the studio and try it again to see what happens.
Of course, I do need to sell my work to survive, so I spend a certain amount of time on shameless self-promotion. I do enjoy being on Facebook, and writing my blog and periodic newsletters – not so much for the self-promotion, but to share my excitement at the amazing things I’ve just seen and the fun projects I’m working on. I’ve just done my last summer market and am now gearing up for a studio sale in another week. These are really fun events, and customers I’ve known for years come over, as well as new ones, and we enjoy some drinks and snacks — and they get a sneak peek at what’s going on behind the walls of the studio. The other great thing is that it forces me to clean and tidy up in advance. A necessary push, because otherwise I’d just start one project on top of another until you couldn’t actually get in the building any more!
HOW DOES YOUR WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS?
If I had to think about what my “trademark” aesthetic is, I guess it would include, in no particular order:
a sense of each image, be it a leaf, a cat, or a crow, being a portrait – in that it seeks to convey the particularity and “soul” of the subject
love of colour, particularly blue (which I use so much I almost consider a “neutral”)
a worn, nostalgic atmosphere
a sense of humour
I’ve never attended art school full-time, and most of my art techniques are self-taught. I think I take after my dad in this respect. He was a blue collar guy/bloke living the north of England, and he liked nothing more than spending time in his beloved shed, figuring out how to make a variety of things from ships in bottles, to marquetry to rocking horses. My mother was a keen gardener (although she didn’t actually have a garden until she retired) and she taught me to look at the details of nature. Although I’ve been influenced by many fellow artists (living and dead), I feel that my parents were the most profound teachers. I learned from them to make the most of the material and subject matter at hand, and, if you don’t know how to make something, figure it out!
WHY DO YOU CREATE WHAT YOU DO?
When I first started to write on this subject I was a bit stumped, but the more I thought about the question, the more reasons came to mind. This may be “too much information”, but here we go …
Not being a religious person, I have found the close observation of nature to be a great help to me in times of personal loss and stress. Even on an average, cheerful day, the sight of a chickadee or a crow can raise my spirits and lower my blood pressure by several notches in a few seconds. I hope to share at least a bit of that joyful feeling through my work.
In many ways I feel like a super-enthusiastic cub reporter, burning to share my latest “story” with the world. On my Facebook page and in my newsletters I often post pictures I’ve just taken that very day, sharing my enjoyment of the natural world and Vancouver in that way. In my image compositions I spend much more time choosing and combining images, and in a way that I hope tells a story about the subject matter in the image and, perhaps more ambitiously, expresses my world view.
On the other hand, in my more pessimistic moments, I envision fragments of my tiles being unearthed by some archeologist in a dystopian future, where they will be puzzled over. What could these impossibly beautiful creatures — crows, sparrows, chickadees — have been like before they became extinct?
I have always been partially motivated to make art in order to break rules and thwart expectations. As long as I can remember I’ve been asking “why” things have to be a certain way. I remember discussing with my mother, at a very young age, the validity of the “blue and green should never be seen” rule. As well as “little children should be seen and not heard”. Later I began to wonder why certain subject matter and art media were considered more “arty” than others. Black and white photography for example was always considered more refined than colour. I remember my first “photo shoot” at age nine with my brand new Kodak Instamatic camera. I was on a school field trip with my elementary school at the Flamingo Park Zoo in exotic Yorkshire. I had taken “amazing” shots of peacocks, tigers and (of course) flamingos. But back then there was only black and white film, so I couldn’t help but be a bit disappointed in the results. When colour film was available I never looked back!
My very first art objects were snow globes. In my twenties, I somehow started collecting snow globes and became dissatisfied with the “rules” that determined what was worthy to be immortalized in the wonderful shrine of snow-globedom. I figured out how to make my own so that I was free to enshrine my local favourite coffee shop and bookstore in the manner I felt they deserved. In a way, all of my work is a continuation of this: taking something that may not be generally revered by society and using my work and images to shine the spotlight upon it that I think it merits.
And finally, this is perhaps not such a good analogy, but here goes. Many years ago I had a friend who really, really loved the music of Jimi Hendrix. He took it a personal challenge if someone did not share this passion, and would make them listen to a Hendrix song over and over again, very loudly. The only reason he could see for someone not to love Hendrix was that they weren’t REALLY LISTENING! I hope that my way of persuading people to notice and love the details of nature is a little less abrasive, but I do identify with my old friend’s evangelical instincts!
HOW DOES YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS WORK?
Because I feel that I’ve used so many words already, and because I have a variety of different processes on the go at any one time: I’ve made a diagram:
It is my great pleasure to pass on the blog hop torch to wonderful Edmonton artist (and fellow descendant of Geordies) Sydney Lancaster. I can’t wait to find out more about her work and process by reading her coming blog hop post.