Sometimes while working in my studio, I listen to podcasts from CBC Radio. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) has some excellent radio programs: Q with Jian Ghomeshi is one I check in on regularly because it features an array of people working in arts and culture - often on the fringes of the mainstream.
A recent February episode of Q - guest hosted by Canadian singer-songwriter Jann Arden (whose wit I have always appreciated) - featured an interview with Phoebe Baker Hyde who wrote the book, The Beauty Experiment. The gist of the book - and the interview - is that Baker Hyde spent a year living outside the beauty conventions that society promotes for women through media, advertising and various industries. The book explains her personal experience through the experiment, explores beauty conventions from other cultures and explains practical tips for women to use in simplifying and challenging their own beauty routines.
To me, Baker Hyde's most interesting suggestion during the interview was the simple act of leaving a store before making a decision to buy something. How many times do we buy something on impulse only to have it sit untouched in our closets or makeup drawers? Though I've worked on it over the years, I'm still guilty of making pointless purchases. Baker Hyde suggests that, when you find something you want to buy, have a good look at it, and then leave the store. If it still seems like a good purchase after you've had some time to mull it over, and maybe had a look at other options, go back to the store and make the purchase. Of course, this isn't always practical or efficient, but I think the principle is a good one.
As I've pondered Baker Hyde's suggestion over the last while, I've begun to realize some of the dumb reasons I walk out of a store with a purchase:
This past weekend - armed with all these ponderings - I managed to leave two stores with nothing in my hands. One was even an art supply store, so that's a huge accomplishment for me. I was looking for a very specific storage solution for my studio, and almost gave in to buying something "close enough" when I couldn't find what I really wanted. In the end, my forbearance payed off when I found exactly what I wanted after doing some research online.
So from now on, each time I leave a store, I'm going to picture a big red stop sign on the door that says: "Do you really need to buy that?" Hopefully I'll have a little more money in my pocket and a little less crap around the house.
A year ago, my husband, Dan, and I bought a comfy new couch to replace an old pine futon we had inherited from friends many moons ago. The futon sat in the basement for a while as we avoided figuring out what to do with it, until we finally got tired of maneuvering around it and had to decide its fate. Unfortunately, the mattress went to the dump . . . it's pretty hard these days to find anywhere to donate a used futon mattress, and I was too overwhelmed by the thought of trying to upcycle it. But I knew there were tons of things I could do with all that pine from the futon frame. So Dan obliged my whim and kindly dismantled the frame for me. He's so great.
A couple months ago, an upcycling project dawned on me for the futon frame wood: bedside tables. For our entire married life, our bedside tables have consisted of whatever we have found around the house that can hold a lamp and an alarm clock. I've never done any real carpentry, but I thought I'd use the futon wood to try my hand at building something a little more spiffy for our bedsides. And hey, I'm always stoked about any opportunity to play with power tools.
My first step was to sort out all the pieces of the dismantled futon to see if I would have enough wood for two tables. I did! Then I had to remove the staples that had been used in the construction of the original futon. They came out easily with pliers. Here are my pieces of wood, organized and ready to go.
As a carpentry novice, I needed a simple table plan to follow. I'm definitely not smart enough to figure it out by myself. I searched online and found this simple, excellent plan for a plant stand made from a recycled wood pallet. I adjusted it slightly for my rectangular tables, but the instructions were just what I needed. Here are the beginnings of my tables: the side legs. If you look very closely, boys and girls, you can see the tools I used: compound mitre saw (at the top left of the picture), drill, wood glue, tape measure, right angle thingy, countersink bit and drill bits. Oh, and screws of course.
Soon my cutting and measuring started to look like tables, and to my delighted surprise, they didn't even wobble! It was at this stage that I decided I would leave the tables unpainted: I like the rough quality of the pine and the curious dings and holes that show the wood's original purpose.
And here's the finished product: sturdy tables with shelves underneath for books and stuff. I'm thrilled with the results. I love the fact that I have some upcycled furniture that's truly functional, that I made myself. Furniture that has served our home continues to serve us in a new way.
"Tree of Life" made from recycled oil drum
One of my favourite places on earth to shop is Ten Thousand Villages. It's rare that I can walk by a store and not go inside. Ten Thousand Villages is a program of The Mennonite Central Committee, and its chief aim is to provide "opportunities for artisans in developing countries to earn income by bringing their products and stories to [other] markets through long-term, fair trading relationships". I have enormous respect for the MCC and the Ten Thousand Villages program, and I can't say enough about the wonderful things they sell. So, each month on my blog, I'll feature one of the artisans or artisan organizations Ten Thousand Villages represents.
Haiti is not an easy place to live. Violence and political instability are constant, and a staggering 80% of the country's population lives below the poverty line. Adding enormous insult to injury, the catastrophic earthquake in 2010 left over a million people homeless and completely devastated the economy.
Since 1973, Comité Artisanal Haitïen (CAH) has worked to encourage Haiti's rich artisanal heritage by helping artisans develop their businesses and find local and foreign markets for their products. CAH represents over 200 artisans in various craft traditions, including stone carving, metal sculpture, paper maché, horn and bone, basketry and natural fiber weaving. The partnership between the artisans and CAH generates incomes to support approximately 1,800 people. Since the 2010 earthquake, CAH has added a new initiative called the Haitian Design Centre, where artisans can generate more designs to ensure the sustainability of their work and income.
Talk about amazing.
"Face of the Sun" oil drum sculpture
I'm particularly fascinated by the metal drum artisans that CAH represents. The craft is unique to Haiti, and it began in the 1940's in a town called Croix des Bouquets, where all the empty oil drums from nearby Port-au-Prince were dumped. Local artisans reclaimed the waste by refashioning it and combining it with other materials to make beautiful art. Because of the artists' resourcefulness with steel drum waste, Crois des Bouquets is no longer littered with steel drums, and the artists now purchase used drums to create their art.
There's something very poignant about artists making beautiful art out of rubble in a country with a worldwide reputation for being a political and economic mess. As Haiti struggles to rise from the ashes, the steel drum artisans' creations are perhaps a sign of hope and strength and promise.
*All art images courtesy of Ten Thousand Villages
Creativity can be a solitary pursuit. This has always been very true for me because I work best on my own. I need undistracted time and thinking space to tinker through ideas and talk myself through experiments. I'm quite fond of solitude but sometimes it's limiting. Because I interact with my materials and ideas alone, I don't always fully appreciate or notice the wonder and and delight in seeing things come to life.
This week, I had an opportunity to be part of a collaborative creative experience, and it reminded me of the value of making things with people. It also amplified my excitement for upcycling. My dear friend, Diana, had invited me to lead a workshop at her church about making upcycled jewelry. She attends a weekly women's group at Community Christian Reformed Church in Kitchener, Ontario, and they came up with a great idea of running workshops for the attendees on a variety of topics for a couple weeks.
Eight lovely women attended my workshop. I showed them how to make t-shirt yarn, and then we made t-shirt necklaces together. To get the ideas flowing, I showed them some photos of cool t-shirt necklaces and I brought along some examples of the t-shirt necklaces I have made. Other than that, I provided very little guidance and just let them run with it.
It was amazing to see the variety in what these ladies came up with. A couple of them said, "I'm not creative at all", but they proved themselves wrong. I was so engrossed in what we were doing, that I forgot to take photos . . . bummer. So you'll have to take my word for it that they each came up with something totally unique and fabulous. Some sewed beads and buttons onto the t-shirt yarn, some strung the t-shirt yarn with beads and washers I had stolen from my husband's workshop, and others layered different colours of t-shirt strands together.
The ladies were pretty stoked about discovering that old t-shirts have a fun - and better - use than old rags or thrift store donations. As we sat around the table working on t-shirt necklaces, they talked about other things they could make with t-shirt yarn, like scarves or headbands for their kids. As I saw their curiousity and interest ignite, I was reminded of what a joy and a privilege it is to create. I was also affirmed in my belief that upcycling is not just for architects, designers or artists: it's something anybody can do, and it's super duper fun.
Jane Hogeterp Koopman
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