Friday, March 21, 2014

Casting a Line

I love it that my friends think of me when they see something. They share things on my Facebook page or pick up something to give me or send me a note to say 'I saw xxx and thought of you.'
 That xxx is always one of two things - donkeys or clotheslines.

Yesterday, when I posted a photo of my clothesline on the first day of spring, there were a couple
 comments that it was perfect for my 'clothesline' books. Indeed, that is exactly why I took it.

At the moment, I have four books dedicated to images of clotheslines. Two of them are tiny books
 to use as a card or with a card. They are entitled 'Life Lines' because they incorporate
 another passion of mine - collected quotes. There are two larger books -
one also has quotes  and the other was commissioned to have just the images.

I love clotheslines. I love the tales that they tell. I love the act of hanging clothes out. I love arranging
 them by colour or texture or size. I love the smell of fresh sheets off the line.
I love what clotheslines represent - a simple, unhurried time with nature orchestrating the dance.

With my photography, it is just not any random clothesline that draws my attention,
makes me throw the brakes on and grab my camera. There has to either be a story there
or an artful array of happy colour or creativity.

Last year I was driving with friends in Newfoundland when I spotted this line of gloves that
 tickled my fancy.When I got out with my camera, one of the passengers commented: 'She's not 
REALLY going up  to that house, is she?'  Another commented, 'Oh yes she is. And she might even
re-arrange things if it doesn't suit her.' Of course, I wouldn't. Not because it's rude or trespassing,
 but because  you can't mess with the story, you just capture it.

Awhile back, I was driving along one beautiful summer morning and noticed a huge line at a farm house, 
way back from the road. Then I spotted another at the next farm and the next and the next. It 
became a game of 'Finding Waldo'. It went on for miles and miles. There was only one 
single place that didn't have a clothes out. MONDAY! It came back to me. 'Washday Monday'
 - a tradition of my childhood. I had completely forgotten about that; about the time that laundry
 was ONLY done on that day. It was a wringer washer, a major undertaking, not the ease
 and convenience we have with automatic washers that has made laundry into a constant 
and never ending task that is any day and too often, every day
because of the sheer amount of clothing we have now.

I am SO looking forward to clothesline season again;
 for the joy of the activity and the potential for book fodder.

Click on the link to see the entire book for the first two.
That doesn't work for the two little ones - they have the photos displayed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  'Life Lines' 
Volume 1
40 pages
          'LINES'                  40 Pages
  Just Photos 

                                                            Tiny Book:  3.5"x2.75" 
'Life Lines 1'

$5. each

                 'Life Lines 2'
$5 each

THE INSIDE SCOOP:  Tiny Book 1 ...

Tiny Book 2:

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Doodley Challenged

For as long as I can remember - which takes me well back over half a century. Good lord, I'm old. I have 'doodled' the same exact thing. Over and over and over. It has never gotten fancier, more detailed or more artistic - it has never evolved.

Most people would doodle something that is on their mind. Some might doodle a fantasy world. Some might start with something totally simple like a circle and build out and up and around and turn it into a wonderful piece of art. The beginning of Zentangles no doubt.

Nope. Not me. If I have pen and paper at hand, I will absent-mindedly do my doodle in any space that exists on the page. It's a tiny little house with a door and three windows, smoke rising from a center chimney, a path leading up the doorway, a deciduous tree on one side and an evergreen on the other. If I have time to get into a second, third or fourth doodle, they will be all exactly the same - no variance whatsoever. I have never even added a second story to the house or put on an addition.

If someone was doing a psychological assessment of my doodles and my lack of evolution with them, I wonder if they brand me sadly uncreative or just content.

I was thinking about my singular lifelong doodle and noticed two things. One is that it is like the cabin on my arks. So I don't only draw them, I build them. And the other is that I do in fact have a great draw (no pun intended) to small buildings, to tiny houses.

In being aware of my narrow scope of doodleness, I am working towards thinking of something else to doodle. Well, I was thinking about thinking about it. Maybe. Or maybe not. It's not really that important to me to stretch my doodle, I was just observing it.

The thing I noticed last night though, is that it does go beyond doodling. So maybe my creativity does need to be stretched somewhat. I have decided I want to paint - which is something I have never had a talent nor a penchant for. I decided that it's time.  I painted three pictures when I was out in Newfoundland last fall. Every single one has a small building as a focus.  I painted a floor cloth. What is it? All our little buildings out East.

Currently I'm taking a water colour class. What did I paint last night when we were supposed to be doing trees?  I even specifically tried not to when I noticed that a cabin had snuck into my forest. The next one I was determined to leave uninhabited. Didn't happen. Couldn't happen. Apparently the challenge for me is beyond doodling.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The EVolution of Arks

For more than 15 years I went to woodworking class at a local highschool. It wasn’t really ‘class’ in the learning sense – I just went there to use the industrial equipment and to have three uninterrupted hours of focus and productivity. I’d still be doing that but because of … I don’t know what – insurance/budget cuts, they discontinued it.

While most folks worked away on some impressive project – often from one semester to another or even one year to another, I worked on dozens of little things all at the same time. If one machine was busy, I had something ready for another. I looked like a mobile manufacturing company with my baskets of pieces. The instructor once approached me and asked me if I was dying. Strange question, I thought and replied ‘I suppose at some point. Why?’ He answered ‘You work like you’re going to.’ Really, what I was working like was a mother of four with no time to myself and no equipment at home.

It was there, in 1988 that I made my first Noah’s Ark as a Christmas gift for my friend’s six year old daughter. That same teacher said ‘What is it?’ ‘It’s a boat.’ I answered. “Hmmm …doesn’t look like a boat.” he replied as he walked away. “Well it’s MY version of a boat.” I shot after him and carried on undeterred.

As it turned out, my friend enjoyed the ‘non-boat’ so much that when opportunity arose a few months later and we started a retail venture together, we named it ‘Noah’s Ark Studio’. I always remember the very first ark that I sold to a first time grandmother as a baptism gift for twins, one named Noah.

For the first four years the animals I used were mostly hand carved wooden ones from Kenya. The local Self Help store where I purchased them couldn’t supply enough so I wound up having to import them directly myself.

In 1992, I was showing a friend a relief carving of an ark that a fellow had done to sell at our store. “You can do that.” he said. “No I can’t - I can't carve.” I replied. “Of course you can,” he stated, “you can do anything.” And I agreed - what was I thinking! OF COURSE I can do anything!

It just so happened that right about then I was heading to a trade show in Pennsylvania. Eleven hours driving. There was no such thing in my life as having 11 hours where I did not produce something. It was as good a time as any to try my hand at carving. I sketched some animals, cut them out of pine and packed them along with a little Xacto knife with one single blade.

My sister, being the more practical, and perhaps the more sane of the two of us – and also an Emerg nurse, flatly declared “You canNOT carve in a moving vehicle.” People really shouldn’t say ‘cannot’ to me, it’s kind of like a red cape to a bull. “Sure I can.” I said and did. When it wasn’t my turn to drive I sat in the back of the van and whittled away – wood chips flying everywhere. I was pleasantly surprised when the animals started taking shape.

I can still see myself holding the finished giraffe up to admire. Seeing a tiny spot that just wasn’t right, with great gusto I gave one last flick of the dull knife. It sliced my thumb from the nail right to the lower joint. I had nothing to contain the blood that was pouring everywhere so I had to confess to the front seaters. “Could someone hand me a plastic bag?” I calmly asked. Well, you can imagine my sister’s reaction. We were on the thruway with no where to slip in and get it stitched up, so I just wrapped it in Kleenex and held it tight for hours until it glued itself back together. By the time we were heading home, I was back at it.

That wasn’t the last time I carved myself up. At one point, when an Emerg Doctor was stitching me up (and actually, I don’t even know where that scar is but my first one is real evident) and he asked what I ‘do’, I told him ‘I’m an artist.’ – something I would never say because I felt like a fraud but at that moment it seemed so much more impressive than ‘I’m a klutz.

And so I went on with my ark production. Because of the sheer amount of time it takes to carve, I still made them not only with the wooden Kenyan animals but with every type imaginable. I couldn’t look at a single animal figure without seeing it with its mate and shipmates. I put them together in glass, ceramic, plastic, plush, rubber, bone and stone. I would build them a boat, which had evolved to looking a little bit more ship shape, carved them a Noah and set them off to sail into the world.

It was such a different world back then. No Internet. No Ebay. No Paypal. The only way to reach the world was costly advertising in a magazine. I used Country Folk Art and Country Sampler – both wonderful publications that were the ‘new thing’ at the time, offering artisans a marketing vehicle. With the exchange on the dollar, an ad cost me about a thousand dollars. I could buy a new computer for that nowadays.It was big bucks to have your product shipped to the US to be photographed, then pay shipping and import duties to have it returned - no digital photos that you could just upload.

Back then, the people just trusted you and sent off a cheque and I trusted that they were good, never waiting the 21 days it took to clear. Which, ironically now they hold US cheques for thirty days. There was no contact with each other – no email, no website to check out for credibility, no tracking of the parcel to watch on line. 

My first ad attracted more than a hundred buyers, which meant I had to build over a hundred arks in a matter of weeks. I would have a dozen orders on any given day. Slightly overwhelming is an understatement. Brian declared that I was the only person he knew that would be upset when there was money in the mailbox. 

I did that to myself three times. Then I did something even sillier. In 1998 I took a sample of little Ark on wheels to a wholesale trade show in Pennsylvania.; wholesale meaning I got half of what I normally did. I was very honoured that Shaker Workshops in Massachusetts picked it up and offered it in their catalogue. I would get orders for 4 or 5 dozen at a time for a number of years.

Poor dear hubby. I had to recruit him to put the wheels on as precision is just not my thing. I’m often better at concept than I am at execution. First he would have to ‘make’ all the nails as the ones that I insisted on as axles only came in the 2 inch size and I needed half inch. He’d cut them and grind a point on each one, then sit at the table at nights, tired from his own full day, drilling holes in the massive pile of arks and set the wheels so they didn’t wobble. So many times he would say ‘If I had to do this to make a living, I’d shoot myself.’ Meanwhile, he was doing it so I could make a living. Every single time, without fail, he would say: “If a person was going to do many of these, they would design a jig.’ And every single time, I would query … ‘How MANY is MANY?’ considering it went on for almost five years and over 600 arks.

Well over a thousand is the number of arks that have set sail from Avonbank. I remember Jaime at about 13, sitting on the kitchen floor, helping package up the Kenyan animals – making sure that they stood well and looked good together. She said ‘I feel a little bit like God. I’m choosing two things that will spend their whole life together.”

Arks with my own carved animals were not as plentiful as it’s hard to sit and whittle away on animals when just keeping up with the boats and Noah was time consuming. I recall being on my way to the shop once and turning around when I was half way there, to go back and get the ark that I had just completed. It was the only one I had been able to do that year. I wasn’t at the store five minutes when a lady from British Columbia came in. She was visiting in Toronto and had made the trip to Sebringville just to get one of my Arks as a wedding gift for her son since that’s what she had given her other two children. She was under the mistaken impression that I always had them in stock.

And they’ve been even fewer over the past ten years. If I get two done in a year, it’s a big deal. My intention was to make one for each of my grandchildren when they were born, but unfortunately I never got past my firstborn. He’s twelve years old and NEVER did get the bottom of the boat – he’s just got a cabin. 

There are a few issues that have been responsible for the lack of production. Burn out was one. After that many I needed a decade of space to even think about it again. I also got into sculpting and creating my Christmas line, which is pretty well all consuming. Then the invention of DSLR cameras fed my lifelong passion for photography and has hijacked 80% of my time. And then there is Newfoundland. When you take seven or eight weeks out of the months that I’m able to work in my unheated wood shop, it doesn’t leave a lot of time to sit on the back porch and whittle away the hours. 

But I have decided that this year I am going to rectify that in honour of the 25th Anniversary of ark building. I really do love creating them and it’s time I put that activity back into my life. Who knows, Scotty may even get the bottom of his boat.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Small Buildings

One of our kids once said "You people collect small buildings." I'm not sure if it was an observation spoken with curiousity, exasperation or confusion.

I suppose we do.

The potential of a small building excites me. It always has. It probably goes way, way back to my childhood when I used to sit under our table with the big heavy legs and pretend that it was my 'house'.

At the farm here, we have my beloved cabin - as much of a joy to me looking AT it as being in it. Brian has what he calls his 'Museum' although it is totally naked and just stores the old vehicles and his growing collection of lawnmowers. It's just a 'Museum' in his head.

On Salt Habour we have our 'Rooms' - a Newfoundland term for the outbuildings of a fisher-family's outport home. There are eight of them. Each is unique in its purpose and function. Although, to be honest the main thing that qualifies for that nowadays is simply that I love Small Buildings.

For many years now I have been in search of a Boler - a tiny house on wheels. It seem to be materializing so I have adjusted my vision to building a Vargo. I am constantly asked 'Why?'  I guess it has to do with my obsession with small buildings. I actually have no plans to drag my Boler or Vargo around - I just want to 'decorate' it. And look at it.

While that resides on my Vision Board, I have a tangible one that I get to play with in my head for the winter. For my birthday this year, Brian bought me a tiny, wee little cabin on an island, close to our home in Newfoundland. It has no hydro or water ... but oh, the potential - for making it cozy and for creating wonderful memories.

I dream small.