One of the exciting (and at the same time frustrating) things about creativity is that it flourishes in the unknown: in play that has no defined purpose, in experimentation, in using new and unusual materials. My chalk paint project with The Painted Bench has been all about this kind of play. My previous posts about this project (post 1, post 2) illustrate the qualities and textures of Annie Sloan Chalk Paint ® applied to collage. Today I'm going to show you some other applications that all came about from trying out the paint with different surfaces. Bring on the assemblage!
Assemblage is a bit of a hybrid between collage and sculpture. Collage (which comes from from the French word "colle", which means glue) pieces together flat pieces. Assemblage does the same thing, but with pieces that come in all shapes and dimensions and require and little more than glue to piece together. I have bins of bits of junk in my studio that have been waiting to situate themselves in some artwork, and the chalk paint project was the perfect opportunity to let them shine.
While playing around with the chalk paint, I discovered another wonderful application for the paint. Chalk paint can be watered down very effectively to create various tints: it can create a sort of watercolour effect that can also be layered. I had the idea to do some pen and ink drawings and tint them with the chalk paint. And then I had the idea to incorporate some of these tinted pen and ink drawings into assemblage pieces. Here's what happened.
This piece is done on an old drawer, and it features lots of things I have found at the beach over the years, like old metal bits and washed up wood (the piece on the bottom). It also features old bamboo garden stakes, lace, vinyl, chicken wire, wood lath, nails, staples, paper, and Annie Sloan Chalk Paint ®. Of all the pieces I did for The Painted Bench, this one is my favourite, for whatever reason.
Further to my first post about my art project with The Painted Bench, here are a couple more concoctions I'd like to show you. These are the first two in what I hope will be more in a kitchen series that celebrates the simple everyday beauty of this hub in our homes. Put simply, it's kitchen stuff painted on kitchen stuff.
This substrate of this piece is the face of an old drawer. I painted the cups on cold-pressed watercolour paper, which is a really versatile surface for chalk paint because you can layer thin, watered-down coats of chalk paint, and then sand them back again. And the cold-pressed paper has a rough surface, which gives lovely texture. For all of you Annie Sloan Chalk Paint® nerds out there, I'll give you the low-down on the colours I used. For the cups, I used (from left to right), a combination of Antibes Green, Olive and Old White; Graphite; Primer Red; Florence; a combination of Chateau Grey and Country Grey; and Duck Egg. The background has layers of Florence, Old White, Cream (I think), Coco and Graphite.
This art piece was done on . . . you guessed it . . . an old cupboard door. The pitcher is made from watercolour paper, with accents of a gold cord and a gold tin tie coffee bag closure. The picture sits on some vintage lace. I painted the pitcher with these Annie Sloan colours: Scandinavian Pink, Paloma, Graphite, Primer Red, Old White and Pure White (among some others probably). The background is a combination of Scandinavian Pink, Provence, Florence, Old White and Pure White.
Stay tuned for more. Next up: assemblage!
I was recently introduced to Melanie Anderson from The Painted Bench, a lovely and charming paint shop on Ottawa Street North in Hamilton. Melanie is a qualified stockist* of Annie Sloan Chalk Paint ®, a versatile paint that is most commonly associated with refurbishing furniture . . . just type "chalk paint" or "Annie Sloan" into your Pinterest search, and you'll see a bazillion examples of beautiful chalk paint creations. The paint is probably most famous for the fact that it requires little to no priming before painting on a myriad of surfaces.
Melanie was looking for an artist to show more possibilities for chalk paint besides furniture - namely, artwork. And I was more than thrilled to oblige! Melanie set me up with every colour in Annie Sloan's chalk paint rainbow, and set me loose to play with paint and come up with ideas.
For a long time now, I have wanted to explore and create "assemblage" artwork. If you're not familiar with assemblage, basically it takes collage (which comes from the French word for "glue") to another level using three dimensional objects and heavier duty adhesion implements, like nails, staples, screws, etc. It's the perfect medium for me and all my bins of junk. When I talked to Melanie about chalk paint, I realized that it was a perfect partner for assemblage because the paint is so accommodating to so many surfaces. And of course, chalk paint is also a great medium for my other love: collage.
For the last few months, I experimented, tinkered and painted, and recently, I delivered some finished pieces to Melanie at The Painted Bench. In this post, and successive blog posts, I'll show you some of the pieces and explain what went into them. It was an invaluable creative experience for me, and I'm so grateful to Melanie for this wonderful opportunity.
Here's one of my first pieces, a collage of a silver dollar plant (lunaria). The background is handmade paper (from India) covered with chalk paint. The plant is made with embroidery thread and tissue paper. Because chalk paint can be layered and sanded back so beautifully, I immediately thought of creating a silver dollar plant because of its mottled shades and reflections. And for those Annie Sloan Chalk Paint aficionados out there, here are the colours used in this collage: Graphite, Napoleonic Blue, Florence, Antibes Green, Coco, Pure White and Old White . . . those are the colours I can remember anyway. I also used a touch of raw ombre acrylic paint in this piece.
And just for fun, here's a shot of my chalk paint wheel in my studio. Stay tuned for more art!
* Annie Sloan distributes her paint through a network of stockists, whom she chooses, because she aims to support small businesses. Read more here.
. . . I think that's more ivy than what graces the ancient walls of most English castles.
So I've had this happy problem. I haven't had time to blog because I've been so busy with artwork. If anything is going to get in the way of blogging, I'm glad it's art. However, I do miss hanging out in this online creative space, and I've been trying to think of ways that I can still spend some time here. So for the time being anyway, and for what it's worth, I'll share images of my day-to-day.
My husband and I recently had the chance to see the Shaw Festival's production of "Our Town" by Thornton Wilder (a wonderful birthday gift from one of my dear brothers and my sister-in-law and their kids). It was such a fabulous production: I really can't say enough about the excellence of everything, and you should go see it if you can. What I loved most about the play was that it reminded us - even pleaded with us - to pay attention to and delight in the everyday glories of life. This is a message that is very dear to my heart: I've always strived to appreciate life's simple wonders. I don't always succeed. So by sharing some images from my everyday, maybe I can help myself - and maybe even a couple others - appreciate what each day gives us.
So here goes . . .
It has been over six months since I last posted on my blog. There's a good reason for it, and it's a long story. But I'll try to tell you the short version.
Through much of June and July, my Dad had excruciating pain in his neck and was hardly able to move from the pain, numbness, and tingling that spread through his entire body. One morning in early August, he fell and subsequently lost all feeling in his body below his chest. He was rushed to the hospital in Brantford (where my parents live), and an emergency MRI revealed an egg-sized tumour on the vertebra at the base of his neck (the C7 vertebra). Emergency surgery soon followed at the General Hospital in Hamilton, as did an eventual diagnosis of multiple myeloma, a blood cancer. And so began the new reality for my Dad and my family.
My Dad was in the hospital for three and a half months: from August 7 until November 20. There were several reasons for this lengthy stay:
My entire family is so grateful for the excellent care my Dad received at the General Hospital and Juravinski Hospital in Hamilton, my city, which is quickly becoming a centre for cancer treatment and research in Canada. We experienced inexplicable grace and joy through the kindness of medical staff, family, and visitors throughout my Dad's time at the hospital. And we're grateful that my Dad is still alive and has experienced some measure of healing: his cancer is not curable, but it is manageable as long as he responds to treatment.
But I'd be lying if I said I always maintained a positive and grateful attitude. I'll just say this plainly (and perhaps selfishly): sickness gets in the way. Never mind blogging, having a loved one who is ill gets in the way of making dinner, doing laundry, and sleeping. And it gets in the way of joy and peace. It's a very strange reality, and all of you who have walked this journey with a loved one - and there are so many of you - know this strange reality all too well.
Your rhythm of life is dictated by the paces of the hospital: surprise transfers from one hospital or one ward to another, the necessarily unpredictable schedules of medical professionals, and vague meal times (for a couple months, my Dad needed help feeding himself). I wanted to be at the hospital as much as I could, to support my parents, to get information, and to share precious moments with my family. Still, as Jesus told his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak*. I was mind-numbingly tired.
Over the last few months, people have asked me, "How is your free kitchen reno going?" It's nice to be asked. I'm honestly thrilled that people are interested. My answer is always the same: "It's not." Since my Dad went into the hospital, I have not picked up a paint brush or fired up the compound mitre saw. While my Dad was in the hospital, I simply didn't have the energy. And when my energy started to come back, I had no time to work on the kitchen because I had to haul ass to make enough Christmas inventory to stock my shelves at AllSorts Gallery.
My family has marvelled over these last months at how inexplicably tiring it was to be at the hospital. It's hard to put your finger on why. Part of it was seeing all the other stories of suffering and loneliness around us every day. Part of it was processing random bits of complicated information from various (sometimes conflicting) sources. Part of it was feeling guilty each time we were free to leave the hospital when Dad had to stay behind. For me, I think the biggest part of it was feeling so helpless in trying to make things easier for my Dad. And then there was the endless quest for free parking . . . don't get me started.
In addition to neglecting my kitchen reno, I also neglected my studio . . . there were probably tumbleweeds blowing through it. I didn't set foot in the place through August and September. In October, I knew I had to start getting my act together if I was to have anything ready to sell for the Christmas shopping season. I spent a lot of time just sitting and staring blankly out the window because I couldn't think of anything to make. Even the most trivial of my creative pursuits seemed insurmountable. I am not one of those artists who processes pain by making art. Pain stunts my creativity. My concern for my Dad and Mom, and my own fatigue put a big weight (picture one of those hefty weights they use to squeeze down hamburgers on the grill) on my creative mojo.
But who would've ever thought the Christmas rush would be a blessing in disguise. The prospect of empty store shelves forced me to power through my fatigue fog and make stuff. As I cut through wine corks, hammered beer caps, and drilled through beach glass, the creative energy started to recharge, like a cold car battery sputtering back to life.
I have realized that, one of the many reasons why illness or death makes us so uncomfortable is because it changes what we know. Our normal routine and the habits of our relationships get thrown up in the air to land in different arrangements to which we must adjust. For my family, it has been a permanent readjustment that began the day my Dad started feeling a strange pain coming from his neck.
He is now home from the hospital, thank God, but everything is different. It's evident around the house: the safety bench in the bathtub, the arm rests on the toilet, and the walker that goes everywhere with my Dad. It's evident in my parents' schedule, with all the chemo and doctor appointments, and visits that get cut short when my Dad gets too tired. It's evident in my parents' relationship as they adjust to a different and awkward balance in which my Mom is, in many respects, my Dad's caregiver. And it's evident in my own sense of attention and responsibility, but this is a good thing.
This has been my reality for the last few years: I am a wife, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, and artist. In my new reality, I am still all of these, but my Dad is sick, so priorities and commitments will shift. At least I hope they will. I hope I have the presence of mind to think beyond my daily concerns and pressures, and care for others in my life, especially my Dad and Mom.
(By the way, I did manage to finish one more stage of the free kitchen reno before my Dad got sick, and I will post about that soon. It's the most exciting stage yet!)
* For any of my brothers who are reading, I know. (Inside joke.)
This is one of my favourite times of year in the garden: everything is bright green (or red or purple or yellow) as all the perennials' leaves have burst through the ground, the temperatures are very pleasant for some hard-core mucking around in the garden, and the irises are blooming! Irises are my favourite flower ever. To me, they are one of the greatest demonstrations of God's masterful, intricate hand in creation, and his sense of humour (I mean, seriously, he put beards on these flowers). I have collected five different varieties over the years (most of them from Trails End Iris Gardens, which is a beautiful place to visit), and this is the first year they are all blooming. So, feast your eyes on this bounty of colour and texture in iris form (with a little Spiderwort thrown in).
A potting bench is a more achievable undertaking, and - you know me - I figured I could make one for almost free.
My first step was to decide what features I wanted in my potting bench. I needed ample storage for the loose plant pots that normally litter our patio and garage from spring to fall as I plant, transplant and experiment. I wanted some storage for the small tools I use all the time. And I wanted my bench to have a stainless steel sink so I could muck around with plants and dirt and water without having to worry about being messy. A sink would also be a good place to keep plants wet while they wait to be planted or transplanted.
I picked all the sturdiest pieces for the frame, and chose thinner planks for bench's shelf and counter. As you can see, the pieces are far from perfect, and many pieces have curved gouges meant for forklifts when they carry loads of pallets. But I was quite happy to have a rugged, beaten-up, rustic potting bench. (And as Dan pointed out to me recently, my potting bench has a convenient feature in that it can always be lifted by a forklift if necessary!)
Next, I made sure I had all my tools and implements ready to go. Here's what I used for my bench:
When I build stuff, I like to start by cutting to size all the pieces I need, as much as possible. This keeps things more organized in my brain and in my work area (the backyard in this case). With this potting bench, my starting point was to build two side frames, and then attach the frames together with four lengths of wood. I planned for my bench to be 36" high, which is standard counter height. Here are all my side frame pieces, cut and ready to go!
I measured the bench so that the sink would just fit atop the frame, and I must say, it fits like a glove. Next, I added a countertop and a bottom shelf. For these, I used the thinner slats of wood from the tops of wood pallets.
All told, I spent less than $50 on this potting bench. My only costs were the decking screws and the stainless steel sink. Aw yeah.
As a finishing touch to my potting bench, I added a very special detail. When Dan and I got married in 1999, Dan's Opa Koopman made us two Muskoka chairs as a wedding gift. Over the years, we've enjoyed many balmy afternoons in the comfort of these chairs, and inevitably, the chairs have become weather-worn and the joints have weakened. One chair didn't survive our move from west Hamilton to east Hamilton, and the other came apart last summer. Opa has been gone for almost ten years now. And maybe it's silly, but I want to hold on to that broken chair - or pieces of it at least - in memory of him. So I got the idea to incorporate some of the pieces into my potting bench. Now, the top of the bench is made from the arms of Opa Koopman's Muskoka chair, and it holds the treasured garden tools I received from his grandson for my 30-something-eth birthday.
I am over-the-moon happy with my potting bench. It spent the winter under a giant tarp to protect it from snow and cat pee, and now it's in perfect shape for gardening season. I've been using it already, usually with a giddy grin on my face and a wink for Opa Koopman.
Jane Hogeterp Koopman
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