My Twin Passions

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I have had two great loves for as long as I can remember. I was introduced to both of them around the same time by my parents. I started cooking (with help obviously) and making art around the age of two and haven’t stopped doing either of them for the past 25 years.

A friend of the family recently shared an anecdote from when I was a 4-year-old wearing an oversized apron. I was standing on a stool to be able to reach the counter, holding a jar of salad dressing and she asked me how I made it, my reply as retold to me by her was, “It’s easy! You just need something sweet, something salty, something oily and something sour!”

That basically sums up what I still love about both of my main disciplines: you get out of them what you put into them.

Both cooking and art-making require time, love and practice if you want to master them. As a kid with a big imagination and a lot of free time growing up in a small town, all of these aspects drew me in. I’m not going to lie, external validation in the form of comments such as, “Wow, this is delicious!” or “That’s a beautiful drawing!” were also very helpful in contributing to my enjoyment of both cooking and art. External validation will only fuel you for so long though.

Making a great painting and making a great meal have a lot of things in common: both require at least a minimum of specialized tools (a pencil, a knife), each has a rich history of ritual and tradition, the creation of them is a tactile experience, when well-executed they can enrich lives and build community.

They also have a lot of things that separate them, the main thing being that a great painting should usually last hundreds of years, while a great meal will probably disappear in a matter of minutes. Making a meal, while I consider it an art, can also be just as simple as opening a box of crackers. Depending on how hungry someone is, or how many special childhood memories they have that include that specific type of cracker, they might prefer your plate of crackers to the 3-course meal that you’ve spent a whole day preparing.

The main thing that I love about cooking is that it is such a simple way to show a person that you care about them. Cooking, in my family, has always been about showing people that you love them. Growing up, my dad and I made baklava together every year for Christmas. He also always cooked a special birthday dinner for my sister and I as per our requests. My mom is also a great cook, and was always coming up with healthy and delicious creations. She made tahini-cocoa truffles when we were kids, a flavour pairing which just became popularized in the mainstream with a brownie recipe published by Bon Appetit this year, though fans of Halva have already long-known its merit.

My dad busy making my sister’s lasagna and cherry cheesecake for her birthday last year.

My dad busy making my sister’s lasagna and cherry cheesecake for her birthday last year.

Painting and art-making are and always have been dear to my heart because they are a wonderful way to process and express emotions. Art is a great way to transform negative experiences into positive creation. As the law of conservation of energy states, energy does not disappear but it can transform. I believe that this applies to emotional energy as well, if you’re feeling bad, you can pass that on to other people as more bad feelings, or you can use your power as a human being to take that negative energy and transform it into something positive, creating something meaningful in the process.

That’s all I have to say for today. Happy Friday!

On Motivation

I want to preface this by reminding everyone that this is a blog, and as such is inherently biased by my opinions and life experience. I am not a doctor. Also, the following is generally in reference to healthy, able-bodied people who don’t suffer from disabilities or chronic illnesses.


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I believe that motivation becomes much less important when one cultivates the quality of self-knowledge and the skill of organization.

Motivation is kind of a fluffy word and to me it conjures the idea of mental luck instead of the quality of mental endurance or toughness. I have often thought to myself, “I’ll be able to get this done only if I can muster up the motivation.”

If you know yourself and you organize your schedule or routine to play to your strengths, you will much less often feel the need to call upon the often-fickle "motivation".

If you want to cultivate a new good habit, I strongly believe that you should start by knowing how many hours of sleep that you need per night and protecting those hours of sleep by any means necessary.

Secondly, learn how much water your body needs to function at its optimal level and do anything possible to get that water into your system.

Thirdly, learn what foods your body needs, in what amounts and on what schedule. In the past year or two, I have come to realize that somewhere around 75 to 80% of my bad moods, lack of motivation or illnesses have been due to a lack of properly minding these three essentials.

Our culture these days is heavily obsessed with productivity and yet I don't think people understand what their bodies and minds need to be productive. We spend less time moving our bodies, more time inside, less time speaking to others and more time staring at screens. Anxiety in North America is at an all-time high from what I understand, and my guess would be that there is probably a noticeable correlation between that and our caffeine consumption.

People (myself included) are hard on themselves because they aren't productive enough, or they feel that they lack motivation, but their bodies and minds often aren't having their basic needs met on a daily basis.

Sleep, water and food sound ridiculously simple, I know. But for many people, due to their work schedules or other variables, it can take an immense amount of effort and planning to make sure that they can accomplish these things with any kind of regularity.

More on this another day…

Meowing From All Corners

Happy Friday everyone!

I hope you’ve all had a good week so far. I have, even though the weather is getting colder…

It’s a great day to be inside drinking tea and writing a blog post. Today’s post is about cats. All about ‘em. My cats, specifically. Luna is even here with me right now, as I write this. I sat down on the couch in my studio and she immediately jumped up and cuddled into her true form: the roast turkey. So I guess I won’t be getting up off the couch any time soon.

Roast turkey from the back.

Roast turkey from the back.

I know you’re all really just here for the photos, but while I’ve got ya’s, I’m going to share some of my tips for maintaining a studio practice from home when you have two cats who constantly long to be by your side. As I’m sure you can imagine, the number one problem is HAIR. Or should I say fur? Anyway, it’s everywhere, all of the time, and to maintain a clean workspace is to battle the hair one day at a time. My top two tips: get a shop vac and an air filter, stat. The vacuum will get most of the hair, but whatever it doesn’t catch will be immediately thrown up into the air to float around and to eventually come to rest on your beautiful fresh paint. Depending on what you’re making, it may not be that much of a problem, but let me tell ya, if you’re trying to get a nice evenly blended skin tone on a portrait, that one little hair that’s stuck to your canvas will drive you mad!! This is where the air filter comes in - it will suck up all the dust and floaty cat hairs that threaten to ruin your peace of mind.

The biggest hair-producer. Look at his cute little half-ear.

The biggest hair-producer. Look at his cute little half-ear.

Another investment that I highly recommend, especially if you are working in oils like me, is a couple of aluminum turkey roasting trays (seriously). Cats hate aluminum, and I like to work on a huge glass palette with the same paint mixes for multiple days at a time. I use the trays to plop upside-down on top of my palette any time that I walk out of the room to avoid unwanted paw-painting. It’s also safer and healthier for them not to be stepping in my paints as some pigments (I’m looking at you, cadmiums) are carcinogens that can absorb through skin.

Luna, “helping”.

Luna, “helping”.

To comfort myself when I’ve completely surrendered to the hair, in the past before I had an air filter, I would think about how someday if I’m lucky and the world doesn’t explode, someone someday might take a sample of paint from one of my paintings, notice a hair and decide to look at the DNA under a microscope or whatever technology they have then. I find that idea deeply pacifying for some reason. Maybe it’s just the idea that my paintings could still exist that far into the future even though I know that I won’t.

A nice distraction from the void.

A nice distraction from the void.

Before I learned this next trick, I used to lift Luna up onto my shoulder and try to balance her there so that she wouldn’t feel neglected while I painted. She’s heavier than she looks, though, so I’m happy that we came up with this solution together:

Shout-out to the cute photo of my dad in the back left corner. Hi Dad!

Shout-out to the cute photo of my dad in the back left corner. Hi Dad!

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So now she has her own stool. Whenever I set up for an afternoon of drawing or painting, I make sure it’s ready with a cushion or a blanket so she’ll be cozy, napping beside me while I work. Butters often takes the couch or the floor if there is a good patch of sunlight. I joke, but Luna is actually a pretty good painting coach/assistant. She knows when I haven’t been in the studio in a while. More than once while sitting on the couch watching TV, I’ve seen her walk into the studio, turn around, sit down and meow at me in an admonishing tone. What she wants is very clear. She wants to me paint.

Butters and I, hard at work.

Butters and I, hard at work.

My Art Studio

 

I like to think of my studio as my external brain.

A brain that exists in a physical, tangible place outside of my body. I like to fill it up with lots of items that inspire me, or make me feel happy or nostalgic. I have a shelf full of art books that I can flip through, and a comfy couch that I can take breaks on, or that my friends can hang out on if they come over to co-work. One of my walls is filled with art prints that I like, many of which were made by friends of mine. If ever I am out and about and find some thing that I can’t not buy, even though it’s totally impractical, it goes into my studio (within reason). There’s an old typewriter, a mirror that I found at a thrift store that has a beautifully embroidered frame, hanging plants and strings of tiny lights. There are multiple vintage suitcases.

 
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After graduating from university, it took some time to become adapted to working from home, by myself. It took me a full year to find the home studio layout that works for me. My partner Kevin built me this enormous work table out of unfinished wood that is definitely the most essential element. It was made to be the perfect height, so I can either stand or sit on a tall stool while working. I was gifted a beautiful H-frame easel by one of my neighbours so I have that set up near the middle of the room, with my giant table against the wall to the right of it. I have a big piece of tempered glass that I repurposed from one of Kevin’s old computer desks to use as a paint palette. It takes up about a third of the table.

 
The studio assistant.

The studio assistant.

 

As you can probably tell, my studio has the tendency to become quite cluttered at times but I like to keep it as clean and organized as possible. When I'm feeling stressed, it gives me solace just to know that it exists, and that it's waiting for me to walk in and make something. When it's cluttered with nonessentials, that reflects on my psyche too. The mess takes up a space in my mind.

When working on a project, which can last from a couple of weeks to several months, I will often leave all of the required tools out on my table so that they are quick and easy to access. At the end of a project, I put every thing back in its place so that I can start anew with a fresh workspace. It’s all part of my painting ritual, to sift through my tubes of paint and line up the ones that I think I’ll need when starting a new project. To mix up new medium, to reorganize my brushes.

I feel very lucky to be able to have a whole room to myself, devoted to my interests and my work, in my home. I know a lot of people are contained within a little corner of the family living room. I deeply respect people who find a way to be creative, no matter their resources or lack thereof. I believe that creativity is mental energy that needs to be expressed, and when it becomes pent-up it can lead to the mind turning on itself. For me, it seems that my mind always needs to be coming up with new ideas, or making connections - if I’m not actively doing that in a constructive way, my mind continues to create scenarios, but they tend to be more along the lines of anxiety-producing what-if situations. It’s the same creative mental energy, but when it isn’t focused, it runs rampant.

So thank you to all the artists and makers out there for expressing your energy in constructive ways - I am deeply grateful that you exist.

The view from here.

The view from here.

The Kraken Art Gallery & Studio

Hello!

I’m happy to announce that a dear friend of mine that I met while growing up in my hometown has opened up her own gallery in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Her name is Amber LeDrew-Bonvarlez and she is an exquisitely talented artist and curator.

Located at 29 Rowan St., The Kraken Art Gallery boasts a retail space as well as enough room for artists to work onsite. I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting yet but the pictures that have been shared on their website and Facebook page have me itching to buy a ticket out east.

They regularly host workshops and monthly events such as “Mimosa’s & Monet” coming up on Saturday, November 10th. Past themed events have included “Pint & Picasso” and “Vodka & Van Gogh”.

If any of you find yourselves wandering around St. John’s on one of these beautiful fall afternoons, amble on over to the gallery and take a peek at what they have in store!

Drawing with Jane

Hey everyone,

I can finally show you all something that I’ve been working on for the past 8 months or so.

http://www.readingwithausten.com/

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I was hired by the Burney Centre at McGill University to create illustrations of the library at Godmersham Park, based on research compiled by my friends at the Centre.

We had no photographs of what the library looked like at the time that Jane Austen would have actually visited, so our vision of what the library may have looked like was based on things like floor plans and written descriptions.

The illustrations that I created were used as the backdrop for this amazing project that allows visitors to the website to explore the catalogue of actual editions that were on the shelves at the time that Jane Austen would have been visiting this library.

Please check it out! I had fun helping to create it and it’s also super fun to explore now that it’s live.