The Story of the Golden Spruce in Pictures

While reading The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant, one of the initial themes that stood out to me is the relationship between nature and humans and the changing balance of power between the two over time. Near the beginning of the book, nature is shown to have a lot of power of humans and is an object of fear to them. As the book develops, however, some humans begin to go against nature through clearcutting and, overall, treating it as a commodity. This is contrasted by the indigenous approach, which is to share the power with nature and live in equilibrium. As the book continues to develop, the golden spruce is cut down. Despite its death, it still wields power over many people, most notably the Haida, as it has now become a source of spiritual power and its death unites everyone against Grant Hadwin. To represent this, I have created 4 sketches that depict this relationship’s development over time.

Grown Over and AbsorbedThe first piece in this series is named Grown Over and Absorbed after a quote from page 8 of The Golden Spruce. In this drawing, the initial relationship between nature and humans is introduced as nature holding much physical power over humans. Likewise, this is mirrored by the first chapter of the book which discusses how the forest can be “totally disorienting once inside” (8) or how the Hecate Strait can easily explode from a flat calm to eighteen-metre waves” (14). This idea can also be found in the second chapter of Vaillant’s book as it discusses how dangerous the forest is to loggers as it can result in death in a multitude of ways, including but not limited to being crushed, kickback from falling trees, and unstable ground. In this picture, I have used two elements to further enforce the meaning behind this drawing: size and value. The fact that the tree as much larger than the person forces the person to seem weaker and lesser than. In addition, the fact that the tree has darker values whereas the person is left completely white makes the viewer see nature as the villain of the situation and something to be feared.

Following, we have Biting its Way Through the Forest Vast, named after a line from aBiting its Way Through the Forest Vastn excerpt from “The Song of the Axe” by Margaret Horsfield on page 81. This drawing shows one way in which humans were able to tame nature and take back some of the power again. “The English were the first to systematically exploit [the timber]” (81) and logging became a way that people began to control forests. This is mirrored by my next piece, titled Woven Web after a section on page 57. This sketch shows how the indigenous people took a different approach to subduing nature, which was to find a way to share the power with it and live in balance. They were able to live within the forest without overexploiting the resources that existed in their region. These two Woven Webdrawings together help represent another prominent theme in the book, which is one of dichotomy. Throughout the story, Vaillant draws comparisons between concepts, such as land and water, loggers and city folk, and the Europeans and the Haida, in order to emphasize dichotomy. By putting these two drawings together, I am not just juxtaposing the meaning behind each drawing but the techniques that I used. For example, in my former drawing, I utilised oblique lines to give a sense of combat and confusion and emphasized the blacks of the picture to show how their way is worse when compared to the latter drawing where I used horizontal lines for a sense of calm and tranquility and allowed for more white space to show through.

Fallout of a Drive-by Shootin

My final drawing is titled Fallout of a Drive-by Shootin, named after what many of the locals thought after Grown Over and Absorbed to show how the human-nature relationship has changed in such a short span of time. This drawing shows that, even after being cut down, the golden spruce still holds much power, no longer in a physical sense but in a more spiritual one, as it was the heart of many different populations. It was “capable of uniting Natives, loggers, and environmentalists” (139). In this picture, I wanted to use contrasting elements to portray how nature is just an innocent victim. For example, I have switched the size and value relationship between the tree and the humans. The now-small size combined with the white shade of the tree serve to drive home the idea that it is the humans who are the real villains of the situation whereas trees and nature are the casualties of the logging industry.

Overall, these four drawings portray the ever-changing power changes between two forces, which we can still observe in our world as we continue to struggle between expansion and restoration. Although the message of a couple of the sketches could have more clarity and thought put in, I am still proud of the way I was able to represent what I believed to be a central theme of the story using both the literal meaning of the drawing combined with the artistic techniques behind them and the process of creating this drawing series has been linchpin to helping me understand the events of the story and what they actually mean in the greater context of life.



Finding My Eminent Person

I have really struggled to pick someone for eminent this year. There were so many great people that I wanted to study that it was hard to pick just one person! I really wanted to step out of my comfort zone again this year by picking someone in a field I don’t plan on actively pursuing in the future but am very passionate and curious about. I thought about picking someone in the field of science research, but I feel that I already learn about this in my own time; I really wanted to take advantage of this learning opportunity and get as much out of this experience as possible.

This year I decided that I really wanted to study an artist, and at first I looked into the “classic” artists that I could study. For a week I pursued studying Salvador Dali, but after researching him further I realized that he wasn’t a good fit for me as my values didn’t seem to line up with his. I also struggled to relate to him as he was a rather privileged person. This seemed to be the case with many of the “classic” artists (Vermeer, Rembrandt, Monet) I pursued. Most of them were white men who came from privileged families, though not all were.

Image result for ai weiwei

So, I decided to look into contemporary artists and I found so many wonderful artists with similar values and backgrounds. However, China based artist, architect, curator, and filmmaker Ai Weiwei stood out to me because he is also heavily involved in activism. You may know him best from the “Bird’s Nest” building he created for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, yet I soon found out he has done so much more. I began to research Ai Weiwei’s biography, then his art installations, then his activism, then I watched some of his documentaries. I wanted to pick someone for eminent that I was not just intrigued by, but captivated by; and I think that I found that in Ai Weiwei.

Image result for ai weiwei 5.12 citizens investigation
5.12 citizens investigation,—ai-weiwei—personal.html

I think that Ai Weiwei is eminent in his field because he really evokes thought through his projects and has shed light on many important issues. An example of this is through his “5.12 Citizens’ Investigation” project. At 14:28 on May 12, 2008, an 8.0-magnitude earthquake happened in Sichuan, China where over 5,000 students in primary and secondary schools perished in the earthquake, yet their names went unannounced by the government and press. In reaction to the government’s lack of transparency, a citizen’s investigation was initiated to find out their names and details about their schools and families. This project had political implications, but more importantly this project brought peace to the friends and families who had lost loved ones in the Sichuan earthquake.

Image result for ai weiwei han dynasty urns
Painted Han Dynasty Urns,

This is just one of his monumental works. Ai Weiwei has been sparking conversations and controversy through some of his other projects which include painting and breaking Han Dynasty urns. However, my personal favourite work of his is “Sunflower Seeds” which was an installation at Tate Modern where he scattered 100 million porcelain “seeds” hand painted by 1,600 Chinese artisans—a commentary on mass consumption and the loss of individuality. The effect is amazing.

Image result for ai weiwei sunflower seeds
Sunflower Seeds,

However, his road to success in the art world was very rocky up until very recently. In 1958 at the age of one, Ai and his family was sent to a concentration camp in Beidahuang, Heilongjiang. They were exiled to Shihezi, Xinjiang in 1961, where they lived for 16 years. Upon the end of the Cultural Revolution, the family returned to Beijing in 1976. In 1978, Ai enrolled in the Beijing Film Academy and studied animation. Later, Ai moved to New York to pursue art and lived there in the 80’s and 90’s where he had a few art pieces and installations showcased. However, in the 2000’s he began to really take off. He had his art showcased, books published, and he founded his own architecture firm, FAKE, and made a studio for himself. His messages of freedom of expression spread all around the world. However, his messages often clashed with the philosophies of the Chinese government. After years of harassment and physical abuse from the government he was arrested and held by the police for 81 days, with no charge. After being released, Ai Weiwei continued to work on his art and continued sparking dialogue between the contemporary world and traditional Chinese modes of thought and production.

The Black Cover BookThe White Cover Book [PW07]The Grey Book Cover [PW12]

Images of publications sourced from:

Ai Weiwei is now one of the most influential Chinese artists and political activists today. I am very excited to try portray him, though I am nervous to impersonate him as we don’t look alike. I hope that through this eminent project I can learn more about the art world and political activism and develop my passion for these topics.

#Eminent2016: Why Bob? Why Now?

My goal is to try and stick to some sort of chronological ordering of the aging of Dylan in the images used in the creation of this project. Hence, this young shot of Dylan in his Greenwich Village folk days here at the outset of the project, moving toward his more current iterations as the study progresses.

Image courtesy of Rolling Stone.

After almost ten years at the helm of the TALONS annual Eminent Person Study, I decided to conduct my own study alongside this year’s classes. These posts will be collected here. 

Why Bob?

They say everything can be replaced

That every distance is not near

So I remember every face

Of every man that brought me here. 1

For a brief moment when I first thought that I would take on the Eminent Person Study, I initially declared my intentions to study Bruce Springsteen. In recent years my musical tastes and affection has leaned heavily toward the Boss, and I would relish the opportunity to delve deeper into his life and rock catalogue. But with Dylan’s recent Nobel Prize win I’ve been hearing a lot more Bob, reading various responses to his inclusion as the first musician to be awarded with the literary honour, and been coming reacquainted with my first true love (and one of Bruce’s, to boot).

Before Bruce, and Josh, and even Gabriel Garcia Marquez, there was always only Bob.

Why Now?

Image courtesy of Consequence of Sound

An artist has to be careful never to really arrive at a place where he thinks he’s at somewhere. You always have to realize that you’re constantly in a state of becoming, and as long as you’re in that realm, you’ll sort of be all right. 2

Back when I was in an older version of our district’s gifted program – the forerunner to TALONS that operated at Dr. Charles Best Junior High back as far as the late-nineteen seventies – our teachers would occasionally participate in the major projects with us: studying eminent people, or engaging in-depth studies to sing or sew, and creating their own inquiries, findings and meaning alongside us. This always seemed an exceptional example to me of what life might be as an adult: that we might go on, continuing to strive, and learn, and change markedly into our middle and advanced ages. But we haven’t much made or had the time to engage in these sorts of pursuits as TALONS teachers in recent years.

It’s true, two of us have completed advanced degrees, a PhD and an MEd between us, and we regularly share our personal and professional struggles and triumphs in blog posts and classroom conversations about the nature of lifelong learning and aspiration. But engage in a project directly alongside our students, we have not.

Additionally, TALONS seems to stand somewhat perched at a crossroads in its continued evolution. Having doubled a few years into our run as a two-teacher, twenty eight student cohort, there are now four teachers and nearly sixty students these days, two of them new to the program this fall; we’ve added courses in the senior grades, and are breaking new trails in Adventure Trips, and other aspects of our learning and organization all the time.

As well, I find myself nearly ten years into my career, with just shy of that time spent facilitating the TALONS learning across a variety of subjects. And with so much change arriving in the TALONS world, I feel compelled this year to strike out a little beyond my own comfort zone as an act of solidarity not only with my grade nine and ten students, but my new teaching partners. Our program is a place where adults as well as adolescents are challenged to grow and develop beyond what they may have previously thought  possible, and to be joining such a juggernaut of an ecosystem as ours must be an intimidating prospect.

Hopefully some of this process extends an invitation to them to join the ranks of public learning that makes our program unique, both for what it teaches the young people among us as well as those of us beyond the school.

But… why Bob?

It’s not a good idea and it’s bad luck to look for life’s guidance to popular entertainers. 3 

Around the time I was graduating from university, I had begun to play guitar with the idea that I might be able to expand the scope of my expressive capabilities into music. I would be earning my degree in Creative Writing (with a minor in French and an additional honours thesis on civil society and ideology around a Boy Scout summer camp that I had spent two summers interning for), and had written a roughshod novel during school, along with hundreds of other essays, newspaper columns, letters, and stories. But like Kurt Vonnegut wrote once, “virtually every writer I know would rather be a musician,” I had always been drawn to music, to the images and melodies that lit fires in undiscovered places in myself. And so I set about exploring my existing taste and experience in music through a borrowed acoustic guitar; when I moved home to Vancouver I bought my own and started unpacking the history of popular music from Elvis on forward.

I listened to the Beatles incessantly, and in chronological order. I watched the Anthology documentaries and began to untangle the thread of blues and rock that ran through Elvis, and Chuck Berry, and Johnny Cash. I began to see the tightly woven threads of the culture that connected Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg to Jim Morrison, and back to Robert Johnson. I’d had some experience with each of these threads in isolation: I’d studied the Beats ravenously as an undergraduate; that hasty youthful novel written in my third year bore an inscription from one of Jim Morrison’s poems; and I could talk for hours about the complimentary and divergent aspects of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones’ early aesthetics.


Then my dad bought the Martin Scorsese documentary on Dylan, No Direction Home, and everything became obsolete. Here was the Rosetta Stone to synthesize and decode the American spirit that unified the story I’d been untangling for years. Here was an artist who defied category or classification, who by the time you had decided what to call him had morphed into something else entirely, who seemed to know his own voice and gifts so well for never claiming to understand them so much as he would never cease to explore their potential. With Dylan there were no lines, no titles, no boundaries, and I wanted that for myself.

I wanted, as I still do, to find what my vision and voice can see and say: to expand beyond what I’ve previously thought possible, and to create new ways of being for others to follow, which is Why Bob, Why Now.

  1.  “I Shall Be Released”
  2. No Direction Home
  3. Songwriters on Songwriting

ZIP – Learning About Poetry, and Each Other

Going from just learning about Slam Poetry in the ZAP project alone and writing my very first slam poem, to co-writing and exploring the world of Slam more in-depth artistically, that too with another person, was quite the journey. However, I feel like I learned a lot about myself, about my partner, and about the real art form of poetry throughout this process.

I was so fortunate as to have co-created with Hira for this project! We had both realized how wonderfully our thoughts intertwined and were able to reflect off of each other’s, and so we found it very easy to not only bring all our thoughts together into what is our finished poem, but to also just work together in general. Her and I work extremely well together, and I know I can speak for the both of us when I say that when our minds are put together, we are an absolute powerhouse.

Aside from the time we were given to work in class, we met up a total of six times.

It didn’t take us very long to decide on a topic for our poem, as we quickly came to the realization that we relate well to each other on a lot of personal experiences and thoughts (in fact, throughout this project, it dawned on us that we are very similar in many, many ways). So our first meeting was after school on November 25th, and consisted of us first watching a few videos of team slam poems to get a feel of a format we could work with. Then we mainly talked a lot of things out; we began the discussion of the different ideas we wanted to  include in our poem. This process mainly involved saying whatever came to our minds. We learned to develop the sense of saying whatever we were thinking, no matter how dumb we thought it sounded, which allowed us  to really get some awesome ideas.

We are interdependent, we are balanced, we have an equilibrium of give and take.”

Initially, when formulating a topic/message we wanted to convey in our poem, the main issue we had was actually wording our thoughts in a way that others would understand. We realized one thing about our extremely compatible thinking was that we always knew what we were trying to say, but no one else would. Add on the fact that we were working with quite the personal topic, and we had ourselves a fairly tricky situation. We spent a full meeting on November 29th, probably around 3 or 4 hours (definitely one of our longer meetings), simply trying to narrow down all these scattered thoughts. We were able to sum up what we wanted to say in the poem in a few sentences, which not only made it easier to explain it to others, but it in fact made it easier for us to understand our own thoughts better! For half the remaining time, we basically spewed all the rest of our random ideas onto paper, and began gathering and grouping ideas, as well as ordering them, creating a kind of layout/plan for what the final thing would sound like. Since we had all our ideas laid out, we evidently were coming up with specific lines or comparisons we wanted to use in our poem somewhere. Some were half-baked, but the more we just told each other our ideas, the better they developed, as we built off each other’s ideas at a rapid rate! Many of the lines and devices used in our poem were created through mutual  development, either one of us intriguing the other with a cool thought, and then our thoughts retaliating till we were trying to contain our excitement upon the final lines we were able to produce.

Your sweater is turned inside out, and you’re holding everyone close to your chest but I’m freezing, I’m in a snow globe: my eternal, internal winter.

This next meeting we were so excited, as we were actually able to start writing. And so we met up at my house on December 2nd, sat down with everything out… and sat, wondering how to even approach this. It’s easy to think that with two people working at once, it’s easier and more efficient to create, but this is in fact the opposite! Poetry in itself has a difficult road to follow, so goes for any art form. And doing it with another person? Sharing the craft and being able to co-create? That was something we both knew, going in, was going to be a new experience and would require a certain level of trust and confidence in on another.

Eventually, we were able to get past this initial block, writing down our first few lines. We also wanted to sharpen and finalize the structure of our poem, so our path was even clearer. Our poem had two “halves” if you will, and we knew we’d have to tackle it one half at a time. We had a sense of where we wanted things too sit in the poem, the moods we wanted to convey with what ideas, and wrote a good chunk that would later be our first draft of our first half.

“When we’re by ourselves, we’re never alone but always lonely.”

Now it was crunch time; we had to get the writing portion done, as we still had to rehearse it enough times to make sure it flowed well and was memorized. So on the next Sunday, the 6th, we decided to meet and get it done, no matter how long it took. It was way more difficult than we had originally imagined it to be, both of us trying to encourage the other to try and think of ways to word things by repeating what we were trying to get at, staring into space and sitting, silently wracking our brains for words or phrases to use. Half the time trains of thought would go loose, and we would end up sitting with clear heads, collecting back to what we were trying to accomplish. We were smart to have written out all our ideas, so we could go back and  refresh our brains. It was a strenuous task at first, but again, we figured it’s better to say something weird than nothing at all. We wanted the perfect words to use, looking up synonyms, trying to get certain rhythms; that’s another thing I realized while working with Hira. As both of us are perfectionists, it’s sometimes hard to  progress quickly, as we wanted everything to be just the way we wanted it, right away. We had to learn that sometimes, you just gotta put something down and get back to it later.

However, we did finally finish writing our first half completely, treating ourselves with hot chocolate, before tackling and finishing the second half as well. In the end, our  poem as a whole conveyed a fairly different message than we had originally intended, but I was actually really happy with how it  turned out. I think it was good we started working on it so early, so we had a lot of time to really develop it nicely and transform it into the masterpiece (if I do say so myself) we ended up with. We also had time to tinker with the structure a bit more after finishing writing, having made it so that in the first half, we we spoke individually, we used the pronoun “you” and when talking together, we used the pronoun “I”. In the second, we broke from that rule, using “I” when we spoke individually, and going with the flow, using whatever fit. This was a large, yet subtle element in our poem that I think really tied the whole thing together. At the end of this meeting, we decided on our speaking roles, and did our first, and our most horrendous runthrough.

“I’ve always been okay by myself, and I never thought I was a jigsaw that needed completion before you waltzed into my puzzle.”

From here on out, we had one class and two extra meeting times to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! I learned from my previous slam poetry project that rehearsal time is so crucial, as we were able to perfect the flow of the poem, as well as implement coordinated hand gestures, eye contact, timing, and other aspects of performance. We worked with the dynamics of the poem, how slow or fast or soft or loud we said things, and we used our voices to convey emotion in ways our words by themselves simply couldn’t. And all the while, we were using our papers less and less, many sheet-less run-throughs first going very slow, as we had to keep cheating and referring back to our words. We practiced a lot, and the more we practiced, the more confident we became in everything from gestures to emotion, to actually fully memorizing our poem. We’d be at my house, making lunch and reciting our poem out loud, developing funny jokes and unintentional raps while rehearsing, sometimes having to start over 10 times as we kept laughing as soon as we started again.

And then came presenting to the class! To be honest, we were both pretty nervous, not only because we were going first, but also because it was pretty intimidating showing something so personal to our friends. This poem is our pride and joy, and we poured not only our time and effort, but our hearts into making and perfecting it. The response was amazing, and it was probably the most emotional run-through we had ever done. We saw the kinds of emotions it evoked in our classmates, and the energy in the room after our last words was indescribable.

“I am safe, I am sound. I don’t feel like a burden anymore.”

I am so, so happy I was able to do this with Hira. I feel like we really learned how we work together through the whole experience, as well as more about the art of poetry. I also feel like we totally deepened our friendship during the course of everything, and I’m extremely happy with how much fun it was, and the result. I’m so proud of everything we’ve learned, and where our level of expectation was, and how much we exceeded that. I would do this again in a heartbeat, and I’m pretty sure we both want to continue co-creating, both in the poetry field and out. I’ve never been comfortable as to share something so personal like art with anyone else, and I’m glad I opened up to doing it this time. We did many things besides actually creating this poem that contributed to our personal bond and exposure to poetry, such as go to poetry club weekly, attend the Glen Eagle All Star Slam, going to Café Du Soleil for a poetry event; we became really involved with the poetry community during the experience. I have a strong feeling we will take things far as we continue submerging ourselves in this shared love of art.

Op-Ed: Police Equality/Police Brutality



Hello, children. Today Imma teach you about a lil something called police racism, and police brutality. First of all, let’s take a look the political cartoon I drew, as shown above. It portrays an RCMP officer holding a sign saying “Police: here for your freedom and rights”, but the word “rights” has been replaced with the word “whites”. This comic was actually based off a joke my and my friend made. We were discssing Aboriginals and police, and how even today there is still intense racism towards Aboriginals. They are caricatured as drunk, violent, dirty criminals, and a lot of the police treatment they receive reflects that view of them. In some regions, police would take any drunk Aboriginals tehy would find and drive them to the edge of town, forcing them to walk home in freezing winter weather, called “starlight tours” by the locals. This resulted in the death of three men in Saskatoon, and the police showing no remorse.

It’s the things like this that make me really doubt Canada’s sparkling reputation. Sure, we like to paint ourselves as the lily-white friendly neighbors of the Rude Americans, but no one wants to talk about the amount of racism and problems that Canada holds. Police equality? More like police brutality.

In Depth Post #7: The Creation of the Planets

So, on Monday night, I created Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. I think in the Bible, it took 6 days or so to create the Earth, but I made 4 planets, and it only took me about an hour.Of course, my planets are about the size of large buttons.

In this post, I’ll be talking about how emotions and diversions affect my conversations and progress with my mentor.

jpegEspecially in art, the following statement is particularly true: “When making choices between options that are basically identical we use our feelings to figure out which feels the best.” One example of this is when I was making decisions about how to place the buttons on my “Earth”. I had chosen two buttons; there was one for each side of the planet, as it was a 2D kind of object. I had chosen the colour blue because Earth is mostly covered by water. I think this is a pretty rational decision I made. However, I then had to decide which side of the button, (front or back) would face outwards. I ended up deciding to keep the front faces of the button facing outwards. This decision wasn’t really based on fact, as the buttons both had mostly flat back faces and were unpatterned on that side. However, I decided that I liked the patterns on the outside of the buttons (one was wood, and had lines from the wood it was cut from, and the other was plastic and had ripples) and kept them facing outwards because I thought it looked prettier, more natural and a bit irregular. So that decision was mostly based off of how the arrangement of the buttons made me feel.







The criteria I use for stating feelings in the beginning of a conversation differs from situation to situation. However, it usually occurs when I already have a strong feeling or idea of how I want the art to turn out. I’m more inclined to state that I really like something rather than I don’t like something, so if I like something the first time around, I’ll state my feelings about it sooner. If I don’t like how something looks, I usually keep it around for a bit and explore other options before stating my feelings, just to give it a chance. For example, when I started creating my learning center display, I told my mentor that I would have a table at about waist height. Since my two main art pieces are hanging, I told my mentor I was struggling with finding a way to display them. I suggested that I had been thinking of hanging them off of a tri-fold display, but I wasn’t entirely sure how to do that. My mentor liked the idea of the tri-fold, because it was easy to transport and added enough height that my pieces wouldn’t be squished on the same level. After a trial and error process, we used bamboo sticks to stabilize the tri-fold and make beams to hang my art off of. In that case, I didn’t have strong feelings/ideas about the tri-fold before we started, so I stated my feelings about it later, after we had discussed the more objective pros and cons of our options. On the other hand, I had a pretty good idea of how I wanted the tri-fold to be coloured, so I stated my feelings right up front. I wanted it to fade from black in one corner to blue in the other, in radial gradient. This way, it related to both space junk and jellyfish habitat, with black for space and the deep ocean, and blue for the atmosphere of Earth and shallower ocean. I also tend to state my feelings up front when I have less time, and I certainly had less time for the painting. My mentor and I only got to the point of mixing our paint (using leftover paints from my mentor, of course) by the time I had to leave. We’re using a lot of multi-coloured scrap paint, which makes a gray base, and adding a dark, green-blue and a lighter purple-blue to get a blue/black colour. We also added silver paint to give it a bit of a shine.

I took a diversion in a conversation yesterday that is almost perfectly described in De Bono’s How to Have a Beautiful Mind. When finished with Mars, I took a moment to survey what I had left to do. Although we were still thinking about a different topic (we had been searching for materials, and came up with some stuff we didn’t think of using but looked really cool), I piped up with a provocative question: What can I do to make this wooden circle look weathered, harsh or old?

I was asking to learn about a skill or method, and also describing with both objective and subjective adjectives what message I wanted to convey. Old is a pretty objective adjective, because you can measure how old an object is. Weathered is a bit of both, because we perceive an item as weathered or new, not always depending on something we can measure, like its age. I would say harsh is a subjective adjective, because a situation that may seem harsh to one person may seem normal or pleasant to another. I think the diversion worked really well, because when I asked directly about what I could do to get to my end point, we were able to come up with some options and really quickly decide what we wanted to do. I used pumice gel to form a bumpy, rough surface on the planet, and let it dry with the Mars planet. This led to a conversation about weathered items, and in recycled art, how much you want to show of the original materials. Normally, artists try to hide the origins of their materials as much as possible, so that they can better control the message they convey with their art. However, with recycled art, the point of my project is to make people aware of the origins of my materials, and how junk items become meaningful. Thus, I show a lot more of the origins of my materials – for example, the button holes on Mars’s ice cap could have been covered, but I decided to leave them to let everyone see that yes, they are buttons. So, this diversion made my conversation a lot richer, and introduced me to new things that I otherwise wouldn’t have thought about.

Space Junk…coming soon!

I’m starting to think about writing my Artist’s statement, so keep an an eye out on my blog. I’ll post a draft and a good copy when I’m done.

New areas to explore – In Depth week 10

So, for most of Spring Break I was in Cuba, with the school music department. The cool thing about Cuba is that, because of the US embargo, they are forced to re-use or maintain a lot of their old technology and materials; for example, the Cuban cars. In Cuba, each family has one car that may have been passed down for generations. The car bodies are from the mid 1900s, but they have newer motors and car parts inside. Going to Cuba let me experience a lot more recycled art, which has led me to find some international concepts about recycled art.

  1.  Conservation
    1.  The item is made with something used or destined for the trash. The item can be used for the same purpose as before, or a new purpose. For example, the car bodies were still cars, but I also saw hats made out of old pop cans. The concept is to give the object/material a second life.
  2.  Art/aesthetic
    1. The driving idea being recycled art: trash for one person can be beauty to another. Finding aesthetic value in trash requires imagination and a willingness to try new things.
  3. Awareness
    1. Recycled art is often used to raise awareness for the “throw-away” mindset we have in more fortunate countries, or the damage caused by the objects we throw away.
  4.  Value
    1. Recycled art is meant to be of equal or greater value than it originally was, whether as an art piece or something practical, like a bag or candlestick.
  5. The technical skill concept
    1. There is a lot of technical skill required for this! Multi-media art requires a lot of broad knowledge about materials and their properties, and delicacy in putting them together.
My desk + some materials for my jellyfish!

Some more specific things I learned was that recycled art is mostly about technical things, such as shaping and holding objects. It is very important to find objects with the right physical properties – or, create your project around your materials if you don’t have time to search for the perfect material. Wire is very useful, because it holds it shape and can be bent into whatever you need. Flimsy plastics, like plastic wrap and plastic bags, are also useful because they are easy to drape over things and are usually transparent or translucent. An alternative I explored with my mentor was crushing and balling up soft plastics to use the fluffy, layered look they have. Though I didn’t have many other options, I think my mentor has been a really good fit for me. Her background in painting, multi-media art, and practically anything art-related makes it a really good relationship between her and I, because she has a ton of knowledge and experience about a wide range of things – from how to cut plastic to building up paper-mache. Another mentor may have been able to help me go more in-depth in a specific area, like working with paper or metal, but I think that the rag-tag assortment of materials I have fits best with my current mentor.

Other than coming up with alternatives and suggesting them, I ask my mentor for alternatives.For example, when attaching my ribbons to my jellyfish, I discussed many different alternatives with my mentor. I brought up the issue of keeping the tentacles to the outside of the jellyfish, and together, we generated these options:

  1. Placing a balled-up plastic bag in the center of the jelly (similar to crinoline on a skirt)
  2. Attaching tentacles from the top of the jelly to the outer edges (like a tent)
  3. Placing a small plastic cone inside the jelly (wouldn’t be as messy as the bag, but less puffy)
  4. Using a little glue on the inside of the jelly to hold the tentacles in place
Hole-punches for tentacles.
Tentacles (made w/ wrapping paper)

The great thing about generating so many alternatives is that you can pick the best parts of each option and incorporate them. For instance, I’m attaching the tentacles to the outer edges to make it more decorative, but I’m putting a little cone (top of a water bottle) inside the jelly to hold the tentacles to the sides of the jelly. This leaves the inside of the jelly still relatively uncluttered, so it won’t get tangled in transport. It also makes it easier to arrange the tentacles, because they don’t have to be glued down.

DSCF2851Now that we’re about halfway through the project, I need to look at my progress. Looking back, I realize that finding a mentor so late into my project has slowed me down a bit. DSCF2856To make up for it, I’m dedicating an hour on Wednesdays to working on In-Depth each week. I’m 3/4 done my jellyfish, and a little over halfway done my space junk mobile. I had two other projects I wanted to do before May. One was in accordance with my Environmental issue project, and represented BC’s power system – A sculpture using plugs and a light bulb attached to a fish. DSCF2858Often, people don’t realize that although hydro-power is renewable, it still has environmental effects that need to be mitigated. The other was a hot air balloon candle-holder. My idea was to make a candle-holder out of the metal cans and wire I have in the shape of a hot air balloon, but I would need help cutting and shaping the metal from my mentor. I definitely want to make the first one, but the second one I think I will leave out of my plans until I’ve finished everything else. From seeing the little trinkets in the Cuban tourist shops, I realized I could also easily make with my strange collection of materials was a wind chime, if I have time. But I already have enough to work on.

For the new few sessions, I’m going to focus on my jellyfish to get it done, and begin work on the hydro-power sculpture in my own time. Looking back, I realize that finding a mentor so late into my project has slowed me down a bit. To make up for it, I’m dedicating an extra hour on Wednesdays to working on In-Depth each week.

The center of the solar system…. In-depth #6

Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats

White hat = information

Red hat = feelings and intuition

Black hat = critical thinking

Yellow hat = values and benefits

Green hat = new ideas/alternatives

Blue hat = organizes other hats; moderator

In the last two weeks of in-depth, I’ve had the chance to further develop my two main art pieces: the jellyfish and the space junk mobile. I’ve had a lot of conversations with my mentor exploring different possibilities for each one, and deciding when to come back to a problem later. For example, we were having  a discussion about how to represent the sun (arguable one of the most important parts) in my solar system. The conversation went a little like this:

Me: “So, my biggest problem so far has been trying to figure out what the sun is going to look like. It can’t be the proper size in relation to the other planets, obviously, but I’d like to make it stand out in some way that obviously designates it as ‘The Sun’. “

Ms. Kirkwood: “Yes. Well, we can definitely make the sun a bit larger than the other planets. To give it a round shape, I could use some of my circles and cross them over each other, to give it more depth. I also think it would be good to show some movement for the sun.”

Me: “That sounds good. I definitely think movement is a good thing, because the sun is always burning and giving off solar flares and radiation, right? It would be nice to have a little globe or sphere for the sun, because most of the other planets are 2D. That would set it apart for sure. What were you thinking of with the circles?

Ms. Kirkwood: “I have some old guitar strings that are really nice, they have this bouncy-ness to them that makes them really fun to work with. (Gets them out and arranges them like so) What if we wrapped a shiny clear material, like this cellophane, around it to reflect light?

guitar string sun, courtesy of me

Me: “Oh, yes I really like the guitar strings like that. Especially how the rings that make it look like the skeleton of a globe aren’t entirely lined up, so they make these great little crescents. The cellophane….I’m not sure. I like how it reflects the light, and it’s plastic, so it’s reusing garbage material, but it’s a little bit too green and pink. It doesn’t remind me of the sun that much. I almost feel like we would want something fluffier and lighter, because the sun is full of gas, and it’s always burning and releasing energy. It would be cool if we found a way to make the material be releasing, or expanding. Hmmm…..I’m not sure about the cellophane, but I really love the guitar strings. How can I attach them to make them stay in that shape?

Ms. Kirkwood: “I usually just tape them together using strong crafting tape. It works well because you can easily take it off if you don’t like it or need to make changes, and because it’s easy to put on and holds very well. If you tape it like this, crossing over one way and then the opposite direction, it makes it more difficult for the tape to get pulled apart.

Me: “Oh yeah, because now it is held together in a way that by trying to undo one piece of tape, the other piece will stop it from moving. Cool! It’s just coincidence that the tape is bright yellow, but I really like how that colour contrasts with the more copper-y guitar strings. (puts pieces together with tape) The two overlapping points are at the top and bottom of the sun if you hold it this way. It’s kind of cool, because it looks like two “poles” on the top and bottom of the sun.”

Ms. Kirkwood: “Yes, it does. Do you have any more ideas about the fabric we could use for the sun? If you want plastic, or garbage-y material, I could give you some kind of plastic-y wrapping paper I had…just let me go look for it…(15 minutes and a messy storage room later) Huh, I thought I had something, but I guess not. None of those more napkin-y tissue papers stood out to you?”

Me: “No, not really…. I don’t know, I can’t really think of anything that seems to fit with the mobile.The rest of it is coppery wire, wood and red plastic.

Ms. Kirkwood: “Do you want to come back on it? We can always work on something else, and come back to it with new ideas later.

Me: “Sure…maybe let’s work on the jellyfish for a bit.

(We make our way back to the space where we do most of our work. After about 30 minutes working on the jellyfish, my leg brushes a piece of cellophane and causes it to shift and expand, falling a little more flat).

Me: ” Wait, what if we crumpled up a material and put it inside the sun, instead of overtop of the guitar string fame?

Ms. Kirkwood: “Why don’t you show me?

Me: (crumples the cellophane and holds inside of frame) “It would be cool if I could suspend the material in the center of the frame…but I still don’t really like the cellophane. It just doesn’t seem to go with the rest of the project. (…) Could I use those yellow bags you get from No Frill’s instead? They’re a bit fluffier and match with the yellow tape really well.

Ms. Kirkwood: “Sure! That might work out well, because its always good to make objects kind of relate to each other. Then they look more like they fit together.

After that conversation, we didn’t actually get around to suspending the bag in midair. But I, for one, kind of like the way the bag flip and curls on itself like solar flares are protruding in plastic strips, and the reflective, somewhat luminous nature if plastic. I can see that in this conversation, we had a lot of ideas being tossed around. Since art is pretty subjective, most of our decisions about what to do were based off of emotions and intuition, the red hat, or the resources we had available (the white hat). Blue and black hats occured the least, but we often talked about what looked or felt good (yellow hat) when trying out new ideas. Now, off to Cuba, where I’m sure I’ll see some sun that isn’t made out of plastics and guitar strings!

wow... do those sun spots spell out No Frills, or is it just me?
wow… do those sun spots spell out No Frills, or is it just me?

1st Mentor Meeting: Mission Successful

So, I had my first meeting with my mentor last night. I was a bit worried, because we’d never met before and I wasn’t entirely sure what would transpire that evening. But, “only good things” as I told myself, were about to occur. My mentor is an incredibly kind and generous person. She lives within a 15 minute drive for me, so she’s also quite local. When meeting with her, I brought along my space junk mobile and my milk jug jellyfish. She was super helpful with both of them – she lent me some ribbon that would work well with my jellyfish, a large metal ring to hang my mobile from, and a 2mm hole-punch to attach the ribbons. We agreed that hole-punch would work best, because you can’t sew through plastic, and glue tends to fall apart after a while. My mentor usually presents me with different ways to do things, or different materials to use. She tells me why she thought they could work, and then I tell her what I think would would be best to use, and why. Often, her experience is really valuable helping me decide what to do.

Two new things I did were:

  • Pulling apart copper wire
  • Dyeing cheesecloth navy blue

Cool things I saw:

  • six-ring masks
  • dragonflies (my mentor suggested I could make similar dragonflies with plastic bags instead of fabric – I might look into this)
  • birch bark and paper mache holders.

Next time I go over, I’ll ask to take some photos to upload here on the blog! I’m really looking forwards to recycled art all over again now that I’m working with another artist.

In-Depth Week 5: How to be Interesting

Welcome to In-Depth Week 5!

What’s new: A space junk mobile in-the-making, milk carton jellyfish (dedicated to Jeanie, of course), and… mentor contacts?

So, I’m a little behind for this post because on Saturday I was at the Zero Waste Leadership Clinic! It was a lot of fun, and I got to meet a lot of really cool people. I also hear there’s a clean energy clinic in the works, which I’m excited for because of my research project… But, back to the main subject. I got to meet the amazing Micheal Hall during this clinic, and I used some of the “How to be Interesting” tactics to make the most of the short time we had. The most important thing I took away from talking to him was that, even though this may take a lot of time, the best thing to do is to just go for it, and make stuff. One thing he said that I really connected to was falling in love with the material. He uses plastic sheets, bags and Styrofoam in his photos, and when describing how he loved the dirty, gross texture of the plastic when left out in the rain. After spending five weeks on this project, I can see what he’s talking about. The milky, translucent milk jug quickly becomes a jellyfish. The red and tan wheels from kinetic become the dusty surfaces of mars, the gaseous storms of Jupiter.  More pictures in a week or so. Promise.

A lone picture offering... I'm thinking of making this a mobile!
A lone picture offering…
I’m thinking of making this a mobile!
Courtesy of Me
Close-up on space junk surrounding Earth, courtesy of Me

Did you know that  the space junk problem we have will only get worse as time goes on? The junk currently orbiting our Earth crashes into other space junk and creates tiny, high speed fragments of debris. Contrary to what I would assume, smaller fragments still mean considerable danger to ships; even tiny flecks of paint can cause considerable erosion on the outside of spacecraft. Windshields and windows are especially susceptible to this.


Anyhow, this week’s topic of discussion is how to be interesting. Although the people I’ve been contacting about mentorship haven’t been able to find any artists to mentor me, they’ve come up with a few ideas and two mentor contacts I can pursue. We’ve been doing a lot of emailing back and forth, and while I realize that this isn’t a great replacement for talking in person, I think I’ve been able to incorporate some of the tactics Edward De Bono mentions. For instance, during my emails, I explored the idea of wearable recycled art . Port Moody is having a competition for Wearable Arts, and the awards are being given out this February.  I’m keeping my eye out for the cool ideas I’m sure will be portrayed, but I also know that the materials I have are not suited, nor high enough in number, to cover a person’s body. So I don’t think wearable art will be much help. The Zero Waste Leadership Clinic I attended on Saturday also held opportunities to share personal stories, facts and figures to further engage in the conversations we were having. As we discussed the dangers of one-use plastics, one thing that Mr. Hall said at the clinic really stuck with me: ” You could be buying a gelato, and you know those little plastic spoons that come with your ice cream? Well, you drop that on the ground when you’re done, and boom! One thousand years.” What he meant by this was that plastic took 1,000 years to naturally degrade, but the way he brought this fact into the conversation certainly made it more interesting, and more tangible. One instance in which I modified an idea to make it more acceptable to me was when emailing about mentorship. It was suggested I attend the Port Moody Wearable Art Awards, but as it is a little bit expensive, as no one else in my family would like to go, and as I most likely would not be able to talk to the artists (it is a performance and awards ceremony), I decided to check out some of the other options I had, and check back on the pictures and artists when the event was over. This way, I can still see if there are any artists whom I could talk to about mentorship, but I can devote my time and my family’s time to other priorities. In my case, I hope to finish a project around the same time the Wearable Art Awards are going on.

Which leads me to my next dilemna: I need bracelet clasps and chains. Unfortunately, these things are only tossed out when they break, which renders them unusable to me, so I’m going to have to buy them. Because the whole point of this project was to reduce waste, I really don’t want to buy anything. Right now I only need one clasp and a piece of crafting wire, so I’m going to check out Urban Source, which is a store in Vancouver that sells art materials that would have otherwise been thrown out. For example, they take film, leather scrap, cardboard, and lots of other materials that have been discarded by manufacturers. Now, their stock changes all the time, so I’m not sure if I’ll be able to find what I need. If I can’t, then I’ll have to buy things the regular way, either from the dollar store or Micheal’s. However, hopefully when I go over there I’ll be able to find what I need and snoop around about their workshop sessions – you can book instructional workshops, but seeing as it’s just me, I might just see what tips I can get from talking to the people at the store.


I’ll probably post again this week/ weekend with pictures of what I’ve been up to. See you next time on In-Depth 2015.