Monday, March 31, 2014

Monday Inspiration: Henrietta Hancock Britton

Henrietta Hancock Britton, Portrait of Harry Britton, (source)

Henrietta Hancock Britton, Nova Scotia Farmyard with Turkeys and Pigs, circa 1920, (source)

I had actually heard of Henrietta Hancock Britton (born 1873 died 1963) before- it's such a fun name- very memorable. She lived in Brandon Manitoba for a time so I'm sure I've seen her name in the university somewhere, though I've not really seen her art before. It's fairly typical of the period- but those pigs are pretty charming. The turkeys are wonderfully painted as well, I would love to see more of her works- especially some sketches. I think with artists that paint in this manner their sketches really shine because they can capture something in two or three strokes, and still give their subjects such good animation.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sunlit Sunday: Inside/Outside

It's slowly warming up out there- but there is still enough snow for the girls to romp around on- a benefit to this weird freeze/thaw cycle is that the snow has this hard crust on it which will support the girls weight- so they can run around the yard on top of the snow (while I flail around trying to keep up with them. My favorite thing is when baby A runs toward a drift higher than she is tall, laughing gleefully as I yell at her to stop- and crash through the snow at the same time).

The other day we made it over to the 'greenhouse'  where we store a few things over winter- and it was nice to sit out there outside/inside for a while- discovering- and basking in the warmth.

Linking up at My Little Home and Garden's Sunlit Sunday- It's the last week this week- sadly- I've been really enjoying this link-up- head over there and check it out.

Friday, March 28, 2014

This Moment

{this moment}
A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.- Amanda Blake Soule

Monday, March 24, 2014

Monday Inspiration: Elizabeth Angrnaqquaq

Elizabeth Angrnaqquaq, Animals and People, 2000, (source)

Elizabeth Angrnaqquaq, caribou, 1980, (source)

Elizabeth Angrnaqquaq, Untitled, 1981, (source)
Elizabeth Angrnaqquaq was born in 1916, in a Nomadic camp in Nunavut- she lived there until 1950- when she moved to Baker Lake Nunavut. After the move to Baker lake she began producing images using a traditional sewing technique- applique. Baker Lake is known as a community that produces Inuit fine arts- and there was a group of women who created embroidered wall hangings- of which Anrnaqquaq was an original member. A show was curated at the national gallery in 2003 by Judith Varney -Burch- called Culture on Cloth- well worth checking out- it's truly beautiful work.

The works themselves are so rich and beautiful- I'm awed by the colours, and the fine composition. I love art that incorporates sewing, It's such a traditional 'women's work' medium- that spans cultures and ages. It's a non- apologetic way to make the statement that you value the work done for millenia by women. Elevating the tasks that are sometimes seen as unimportant or 'work-a-day', into fine art. I love the care that goes into every stitch, the slow way images like this build, stitch by stitch by stitch.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sunlit Sunday: Inside

This one was taken by N- I was impressed- I love the reflection on the table.
Spring Schming, this week it was still winter -27 with the wind chill! we did go outside- but it was very cold- and the snow is still so... there... the garden is covered by at least 4 feet of snow in some spots- it's slightly depressing. So Inside shots it is- the sun was shining a few days at least- and we took advantage of the sunbeams in the house to play in and to start a bit of spring cleaning- which feels good- it would feel better if I could actually open the windows to air things out- but whatever... Murphy's oil soap smells good too.

Linking up to Sunlit Sunday at My Little Home and Garden

Friday, March 21, 2014

This Moment

{this moment}
A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.- Amanda Blake Soule

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Kids in the Garden: String for the Birds

It's the Spring Equinox today- and we like to mark these days a little bit at least, bring the seasons into our life in a real way- and teach the kids to be a bit conscious of it at the very least. It's a cool thing that the days and night change in our part of the world, and I think we should notice it, if not celebrate it. I suppose they change in most parts of the world- except the equator- and that's always in our discussions of why we could never move to Hawaii- we like the fact that the days are shorter in winter and longer in summer*.

Anyways we decided to mark today with a little tribute to the birds- a basket full of soft nesting materials, which they can use to build nests- fitting for the first day of spring I think.

Step 1: Gather supplies- yarn, string, hair, thin strips of cloth, all cut 4 to 6 inches in length. Cat hair, dust bunnies, soft batting, and roving are all good too.

 Step 2: Prepare all the materials, talk about how the birds will pick things up, how wide do the kids think the fabric needs to be- how big do the clumps of stuffing should be.

Step 3: Stuff it into the basket- I used an empty free hanging Suet basket- though I think you could also just hang a bunch of stuff from a tree- loosely tied around the middle. My basket was 4 dollars though and we'll use it again and again.

Step 4: Hang the basket from the trees outside and watch the birds build nests- you can probably identify some of the string if you happen to see it in nests later in the summer.

I think we'll probably have this basket hanging for a while before it sees too much use. It's still too cold here for Robins- but once they come they'll use tons of nest building supplies. It's still a nice way to mark the Spring Equinox though. Here are some links related to birds and nest monitoring- Project Nest Watch, BioKids, Birds Nest Safari- Highlights

* We just learned the other night that originally clocks in England made the hours longer during a winters night, and shorter during a summer night- that's how they figured it out- so the sun would always set and rise at the same time- but the hours were not a consistent amount of time. Midnight in January would just drag on and on eh?

Linking this post up to Green Thumb Thursday over at Little mountain Haven- if you're stopping by from there leave a note in the comments- I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Monday Inspiration: Doris McCarthy

Doris McCarthy, Hills at Dagmar, 1948, (source)

Doris McCarthy, Wave Movement #8, 1969, (source)
Doris McCarthy in Nunavut, 1976 (source)
Doris McCarthy, Iceberg with Moon, 2002, (source)
Another Kick-Ass Canadian woman artist. Doris McCarthy was born in 1910- and died in 2010, which means that she painted Iceberg with Moon when she was 92 years old! I love that- it makes me want to live up to that standard. The paintings themselves are somewhat 'traditional' Canadian Landscapes- though there is a big breadth to her work- you can see that she stretched in both directions as a painter- experimenting on either side of her comfort zone.

I love the colourful exuberance of the Hills at Dagmar, and the way that the landscape sort of twists in that image- reflecting the rolling quality of the hills. I love how the waves are distilled to their bare minimum in Wave Movement #8. In Iceberg with Moon, the Icebergs are so solid looking and yet slightly transparent, and also sliding slowly into the sea- it's a wonderful commentary on the solid impermanence of them.

Plus look at the image of her bundled up- painting icebergs in Nunavut, in the 70's- I mean really does it get more Iconically Canadian than that?

(for the most adorable elderly lady painter picture go here- awesome!)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sunlit Sunday: Slowly

 Not so much sun here this weekend- it's suddenly cold again- and the pictures I'd  planned on taking for Sunlit Sunday this week (outside tapping maple trees) didn't happen- thanks to -27 windchill. Oh well- it'll warm up someday- in the meantime I'm reveling in the smell of wet dirt out in the front porch, and checking daily to see if anything's coming up. Enjoying the tiny citrus tree that's sprouting leaves, adoring the baby belly that's been hanging around menacing the plants- (that low level is so tempting to little fingers). Noticing the lovely lacy edges on the horseradish plant- which will be lost in the madness of summer, when it gets planted out among showier things- and is surrounded in a sea of green.

And so quietly, quietly, spring is edging it's way closer. I always want it to barge in, and fill the world with warmth and growth, but that's just not the nature of spring is it? It is more of a quiet unfurling, a gentle rain that slowly fills the cup.

Joining in again for Sunlit Sunday over at My Little Home and Garden.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

In the Garden: Canadian Seed Companies

The snow is melting... Really... N is slightly unhappy with this...she's the only one...The front porch- where we start seeds- is nice and warm now- and eggplants and peppers and celeriac are starting to poke up through the dirt, the winter sown stuff is all done, and it is definitely time to get planning this garden again.

A couple of years ago Monsanto bought Seminis seeds- you can read more about it here - and I decided to only grow heirloom varieties. We mostly stick to that,  I love the idea of eating vegetables that have been around for ages, and believe it or not they do all taste a little different- which is a revelation. I also buy sustainably produced seed as much as possible. Sustainable is different from organic- though most sustainable seed growers use organic methods- they might not be certified organic, which is just politics really. Buying from small seed companies, that grow their own seed, and don't just bulk buy seed and package it in their own envelopes, is a way to support small farming and local businesses. Plus if you buy the seed from the person who gathered the seed- you can be sure that you're not buying from a big nasty company- so it's Monsanto proof.

The personal is political after all- and the more we support a better agriculture with our wallets the better the world will be. Often the seeds are not as cheap as they would be in Walmart, but you're paying for quality- they are most likely to germinate-plus- if they don't you have an actual person to talk to about it- who will actually care that your eggplant seeds didn't produce. And really is 3.95 too much to pay for a years supply of carrots or squash?

We've also ordered from Baker Creek seeds in the past- and they are superb- I love that you can write a review of the seeds right on their page and the selection is phenomenal- but they aren't local to me- so I've been trying to find good Canadian companies to buy seed from- and there are a ton out there. These are the five that I've bought from or am planning to buy from this year:

 T&T seeds: Located in Winnipeg- they are a good source of fruit trees and perennials- but we've had some bad luck with their stuff dying in the second year. They do supply mostly zone 3 hardy varieties, which is nice because you won't find things like rosemary listed as perennials (everything is perennial somewhere, just probably not here) and they have lots of ornamentals- some hard to find ones as well- Snakeroot and Big Bluestem.

Salt Spring Seeds: Located on Salt Spring Island (a.k.a the closest place to heaven in Canada), most of the seeds are produced by them, they have a good selection and great service. I bought lots of medicinal herbs and edible flowers from them, but you have to be careful about the perennials- because of course when they say hardy- they mean to balmy British Columbia standards.

Richters: Located in Ontario- it has the polish of a big seed company- but it is a family run business- huge selection- huge. You can buy seeds, plugs, plants, or dried material from most of the herbs they offer. They also have mushroom plugs.

Heritage Harvest Seeds: Located in Carmen Manitoba. They have a great selection of Heirloom seed, they also grow the seeds themselves. It's mostly vegetable seeds- the Bean and Tomato selection is enormous, but they do have some nice old fashioned flowers and herbs too.

Boughen Nursaries: Located in Valley River Manitoba. They're an older family run nursery, and they've got great selection too- lots of hardy apple varieties, and fruit trees, they also have some nice perennials, and non-fruit trees too.

Do you have a great Canadian seed company that you swear by? Let me know in the comments.

Linking up for Green Thumb Thursday at Little Mountain Haven.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Work in Progress Wednesday: Grog tests

The only work being done this week in my studio is grog tests for tiles. It's not too exciting- though it is exciting to see the pattern play out over more than one tile (the bottom left hand corner has one wonky tile from the first mold I made- I just used it to get done a little quicker- it's total crap- so happy I squared things up). So you can see how the pattern will repeat- I'm pretty pleased with it- though the real test will come after it's glazed.

Okay let's get a little technical- I'm using Plainsman M390 clay for these tiles- mainly because it's what I use for everything else- it's a good plastic clay- that holds up well to hand building, and is really white once fired so it looks good with bright colour glazes. I'd like the tiles to be glazed with my regular glazes- so I don't have to worry about testing and formulating new glazes- so M390 it is. The only thing about this clay is that it's not grogged- and non-grogged clay leads to warping and irregular shrinking, and it's tougher to work with as a tile. So I'm opting to try and add fine grog (fired clay dust basically) to the M390.  I'm also trying out some homemade paper clay (by wedging 1 ply toilet paper into the wet clay).

My method for adding the grog is to wedge it into wet clay- I know this makes my measurements a bit off percentage-wise- by adding dry grog to wet clay instead of dry grog to dry clay- I'll end up with a higher grog percentage, But all my percentages will be higher- so when I say 5 percent it's probably closer to 7, 2.5 closer 3.5 etc. Also I don't want to go to the trouble of mixing my clay from dry- unless I have to- I think it's safer for my lungs to work with the grog if I incorporate into wet clay because it's less dusty.

I started with 10 % dry grog ( 100 g grog - 1000 g wet clay) It was difficult to wedge in, and not very plastic, the clay got very dry, fast, it was unworkable.  I diluted the 10% mix  down to 5% by adding another 1000g wet ungrogged clay. The 5% clay was slightly dry, but as a result it came out of the mold quickly, and it dried nicely, the 2.5 % was not as quick to unmold- but it was a bit smoother- and dried down more, the.75% was smoother still- but also not as quick to unmold- it was the most like working with plain M390.

So far I like the 5% the best; the tiles dried very flat- they felt more solid and thicker right from the mold- they could handle a bit of sliding and flipping without deforming. My only concern is on how the grog will fire- Straight from the bag it looks grey- and I wonder if I'll be left with grey flecks in the white tile. That's why I'm also trying Paper clay (clay with paper fibers in it)- which would undoubtedly fire white.

Also I'm using a trick to help the tiles dry flat- waxing the edges with wax resist- so that they dry more slowly than the center. This works great for me, I've gotten the plain M390 tiles to dry flat with waxed edges and careful covering- but I'd rather have a sturdier clay mix so it's not as finicky. Next I'll get my paper clay samples done, and then make a bunch of stuff to fill the kiln so I can get firing these guys.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Monday Inspiration: Mina Forsyth

Mina Forsyth, four sisters, 1972

Mina Forsyth, Champion fiddler, 1985 (source)

Mina Forsyth, Clear July Wash Day, 1985 (source)

Saskatchewan Artist Mina Mabel Forsyth was born in 1920 and passed away in 1987- she received her BFA from the University of Manitoba, and her MFA from Michigan State university, after which she taught at the the University of Saskatchewan.

I love these paintings- they are so full of life. I really enjoy it when you can see the painters brushwork; when you can imagine the movement that their arms made when that brushstroke was made. Paint is such an interesting medium because you can capture all that- the speed and intensity of the artist, whether they were enjoying it or not- you can always tell when a painting is worked to death by the artist- it just exudes that tight feeling of frustration- the layers of paint and short brushstrokes translate for you. These are so wonderfully loose- they seem effortless- like a breathing exercise- my shoulders relax just looking at them. The slightly out of control quality in these works makes them feel dream like to me- I feel that bouncy sort of feeling that would be present in a dream about hanging laundry on a clear July day- like your arms are made of elastic and they just stre-e-e-e-tch to put the laundry up.

The looseness of her brushwork is not really a bar to some serious feeling though- as the top image- Four Sisters- conveys such melancholy, it makes you wonder at the complexities of a sibling relationship. An ease sits in those sisters- but also a fine tension in the distance between them. It's beautiful work- and thought provoking as well which is such a wonderful balance.

(Monday Inspiration 2014 is all about Canadian Artists. Even after completing a BFA from a Canadian University I realized that I don't know much about Canadian art beyond the group of seven, so I'm setting out to remedy that- if you have an artist you think I should look up- let me know in the comments- Thanks!)

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sunlit Sunday: Piece by Piece

This one's just for scale- I have normal sized hands- I think...

N thinks they would also make good party hats

I wanted to do a granny square blanket- but I can't crochet- and I'm not really accepting new skills to my hobby list at the present time- so I looked for a Knitted pattern- for squares that I could work on little by little- while using up my stash of yarn so that I can just be done with Knitting. I know, I know, Knitting is awesome- and I live in a climate where knit goods are actually essential and all that- but really I just don't have the time. I'm hoping that by cutting back on hobbies I'll actually accomplish more art making. (I'm somewhat skeptical that this will work- probably the void I'm creating will just fill itself with more and more obscure hobbies- like grafting trees, or weaving cloth out bark, then dyeing it with native plants.)

Anyhow- back to the blanket- I usually don't like Knit squares- they look too dishcloth-y to me- but this pattern is perfect. It is really straightforward and easy and quick and just great. I wasn't sure how big they would be and so I was worried they might be these giant unwieldy dishcloth like things- but they're actually perfectly sized- cute- wee things- which will make the most awesome blanket- and will also take me years to put together.

It's a great way to make these Kandinsky-esque colour circles too- because the pattern is knit from the outside in- it takes about an hour to knit one square- and I'm not getting at all sick of my colour choices yet- so it seems like it will be a great stash buster. Also I love the feeling of accomplishment I get after one hour of work- it could be years before I finish some clay pieces- so I'm loving the instant gratification feel of these hexagons- plus they're so cheery in all this white snow.

Linking up with Sunlit Sundays- it's a great group of bloggers over there- lots of  friendly Canadians- slip over to check it out over at My Little Home and Garden

Friday, March 7, 2014

This Moment

{this moment}
A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.- Amanda Blake Soule

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Kids in The Garden: Winter Sowing

Winter sowing is an awesome way to get some seeds started, and get your hands in some dirt in the middle of winter. The basic idea is to plant seeds in a 'mini- greenhouse'- then put them outside and let them sprout naturally when the time is right. The seeds will only sprout when it's warm enough to do so- the only danger is if you get a freak warm spell- and the seeds start to germinate and grow- and then you get freezing temps again. We don't often have that here- and if it did happen then all you need to do is take them inside. The greenhouse (I use milk jugs- cut most of the way around the equator- leave a little flap to keep the 'lid' attached and with holes poked in the bottom), will keep the plants protected at night, and will amplify the sun during the day- plus they catch the snow and rain. It's a good system - especially with seeds that need to be cold stratified (they need to freeze and thaw to break the seed coat) to germinate. What I like about it is that it frees up space and time when I need to start planting things indoors- because I can start them early to no ill-effects (as long as it's too cold for them to germinate outside the seeds will be safe)- also it's a great project to get kids to help with.

I've had mixed results with this method- here are some things I think work best:

Pick seeds that would self sow naturally in your garden or your area. that means that if they fall on the ground one year and then sprout the next- you can be sure to get some plants growing in your milk jugs.

Often in my area- they plants in the containers are slow to start- and I've found that for most annual flowers I'll often get blooms faster if I just direct seed in the garden. Lavatera, Nigella, Baby's Breath and Calendula all were much bigger when I planted them in early spring direct in the ground.

Perennials work great- and are worth the effort and time. I planted one jug of Creeping thyme for a walkway in my herb area- and it was big enough to transplant in July. That seems late- but actually it's perfect because it gives you a bit of time to get the annuals in the ground, and the veggies sorted out.

You need a sheltered area- from the wind - but one that allows full sun exposure too. This is tricky.

I've also found that keeping the container in a big sled or something is great for moving them here and there- but- it also keeps the water in during a rainfall- and even if you dump it right after- the seeds will still have floated around in there- some getting deeper- and some getting too waterlogged- and all getting messed up. This really affects germination- I've always had one or two plants come up- but sometimes no more than that- I'm not sure what the solution is - probably a sled with drainage holes in the bottom.

Some plants that really work well: Bachelors Buttons produce like crazy, my sister has had great success with Lettuce, Echinacea is not bad either, and Creeping Thyme. I'll let you know how the others fare this year...

Okay so on to the project:

Step 1: collect milk jugs and make greenhouses- there are tons of tutorials online for winter sowing, or making mini-greenhouses out of recyclables- be imaginative!

Step 2: fill with dirt- I like to put a thin layer on teh bottom and tamp down really well- the girls love to do this- then if you're going to add a slow release fertilizer this is the place to do it. Then fill with the rest of the dirt. I also like to wet my soil (or pro-mix- a sterile growing medium), first- and then mix it around to make sure it absorbs the water well. Fill the jug with about 2-3 inches of soil- gently pat down.

Step 4: Label the jugs- with the variety, and the date - just for curiosity's sake.

Step 3: Sprinkle on your seeds- not too many- but more than the amount of plants you want- if you have small children- getting enough seeds in there won't be a problem, trust me.

this is a good step to get some learning in- I usually let them hold each of the seeds and then we talk about it's shape and why it would be like that- tiny snap dragon seeds in the top photo, and giant hollyhock seeds in the bottom. Talk about the ways that seeds are spread out- by wind or animals, or just by dropping on the ground. Hollyhocks are big tall flowers- so they have papery wings to catch the wind and spread out.

Step 4: Once the seeds are in- gently cover them up and tamp them down again- then water the jug gently and tape up the sides.

Step 5: take the jugs outside and find a place to dump them. this year I'm trying under a spruce tree- facing south. I had to shovel out a little spot for them.

Step 6: Cover the jugs up with snow- or not- if you live somewhere with no snow (but then if you live somewhere with no snow- you should probably just put the seeds in the ground, and call it a day).

That's it- don't forget to check them when the weather warms up, and water accordingly, also on extra warm days you will probably want to open the lids so that the plants don't heat up. Also here's an awesome link for kids info on seeds here at the university of Illinois "Great Plant Escape".

What do think? will you try a couple of jugs this year?

Linking up with Little Mountain haven's Blog Hop- check it out!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Monday Inspiration: Eva Theresa Bradshaw

Eva Theresa Bradshaw, Still life with Irises, (source)

Eva Theresa Bradshaw, Untitled- Summer's Reward, (source)
 There's not much info on this artist floating around, but I am struck by the fine quality of her Irises, I love the way the the irises seem to melt into the background in the upper left corner, and how she's captured the light. I really admire artists that can do justice to the subject- not ignore the background, and always keep their brushstrokes rough and painterly. It's such a challenge to do that- and the trick is to spell things out with the minimum of stokes; to be able to pare something down to it's visual basics is like turning a 100 pages into an eloquent 100 word synopsis- very difficult to do while still maintaining any kind of beauty.

Bradshaw was an artist from London Ontario born 1871- died- 1938, and painted mostly still life- she studied under London Ontario artists John and James Griffiths (I've also never heard of these guys- more artists to look up- it's a bit like a treasure hunt- this search for Canadian artists).

More info on the artist here- at the brilliant Canadian Women's Artist History Initiative.