Struggle

A blog about art is hardly the place to pull back the curtain on an ugly subject like an eating disorder. But then again, struggle and pain are real in most peoples’ lives and sometimes in the life of an artist those experiences form the basis of beautiful art. I suppose I felt the need to provide a counterbalance to all that eye-catching art here on Maker; to maybe be more open about why I generally want to share what I find amazing about us humans by shedding a wee bit of light on an eating disorder in my family. And I have to say in my experience not a lot of people know that eating disorders affect boys and men and that they are especially ashamed and terrified of seeking help.

My family experienced this mental health disorder about 15 years ago. In fact I’ve known my son more years with the eating disorder than the years before it took over his mind and body. Black, hollow and cold (because that’s how I think of it), it attached itself to him (and the rest of us) kind of like a parasite attaches itself to a healthy host and we’ve been in a life or death battle with it ever since.

It came about innocently, in the form of a matter-of-fact question one day when my son was about 11…how to lose weight as he entered high school and my equally matter-of-fact if not clinical response…calories in, calories out, if you take in more calories than you expend in energy, you’ll gain weight. If you take in less you’ll lose weight. That was that. Of course starting high school is stressful for most adolescents and he was no different. He had been called names like ‘fatty’ throughout elementary school and as the prospect of high school loomed he decided to choose healthier foods. I was on board with healthier foods! But when he later joined the cross-country running club at school and started paying attention to his appearance I started to worry. Insidiously and over months when family and friends started to compliment his changing physique that attention ever-so-quietly evolved into obsession. And he wasn’t at all interested in going back to what he considered his ‘fat’ self.

I remember feeling helpless as the realization dawned one day that he had an eating disorder. It felt like the whole family was slipping over the edge of a cliff and that nothing we said or did was reaching him. It’s hard to describe that sense of loss, the strangeness that overtakes someone so familiar, my not recognizing him physically or emotionally anymore. Over a matter of months he was a different person; anxious, distrustful and depressed. That was one of the hardest things to take – knowing too well that adage ‘you are what you eat’ and watching him sink further into despair and then thoughts of suicide. How had it come to this? How many times did my husband and I try to convince our son that life was worth living. And how many times did I go back to memories of feeding him as a baby, of being so in love with his beautiful little face and his curious disposition. And then my own guilt and shame and anger at having allowed this thing to enter our lives.

Feelings of guilt, shame and anger happen but they aren’t helpful in the long run. You can beat yourself up til the cows come home over what could’ve or should’ve been or…you can ask for help, for a family member who has an eating disorder and/or for yourself and everyone else around you. Let me tell you it took me a long time to comprehend the fact that we couldn’t reason with our son and that highly emotional arguments with him were useless. With counselling help though we started to learn (and are still learning) that approaching a loved one with an eating disorder takes a different strategy altogether.

15 years on treatment continues to be life altering. For us it was the first and hardest step in what therapists call ‘recovery’ from an eating disorder. I say hardest step because our son refused treatment for years before finally agreeing to see a counsellor when his blood potassium level was in his boots and he was more than tired of the endless hopelessness. We didn’t get help from our family doctor though. Unfortunately many of them aren’t familiar with eating disorders and if they are they have preconceived notions about them; that they only happen to females and that they can be treated with antidepressants or ‘just eat’ pep talks. Bull Shit. Desperate times call for helping yourself so I researched services online and came across a few clinics and programs in and around our community. If you live in BC an awesome resource for the province is… https://keltyeatingdisorders.ca/. But be aware, as with all publicly funded programs in the province, waiting lists can be long and counselling services scarce. Aligning a son or daughter’s mood at any given time with a counselling appointment can be nearly impossible. Been there, done that many times.

Now as much as I’d like to say we’re all living happily ever after I have to be honest. Real life doesn’t generally have fairy tale endings. Instead, harsh understanding brings newfound determination to make the best of what life has to offer. I was naive when I assumed that his month stay in a children’s hospital ward at 16 would magically return our son to a normal weight and that he’d be over the eating disorder. I was naive when I assumed a 3 month stay on an adult eating disorder ward many years later would rid him of it. But I wasn’t so naive when he entered a 3 month residential program for eating disorders in Vancouver last year. It’s taken me a long time to understand what ‘recovery’ means and that one step forward and two steps back is often normal. It’s taken me years to appreciate the fact that an eating disorder reaches it’s bony fingers into every member of the family, that it sucks the energy out of much more important things that happen in all families. And I can’t stress enough how important it is to listen to your son (or daughter) when it comes to understanding their emotional lives whether or not they have an eating disorder. And that as a society we harm boys and men so much by demanding that they ‘be a man’ which leaves them no choice but to continue to suffer.

If you have any thoughts or questions about this post please feel free to comment below. I’m certainly no expert in much of anything but I do know something about eating disorders and maybe something about being a wiser parent when something black, hollow and cold visits your family.

Returning next post…some more beautiful art. Yay!

Caroline Blackburn

There’s something inviting about the bubbled crusty surfaces of Caroline Blackburn’s pottery. Rustic and minimal, it could very easily have been unearthed on a dig, an archeologist’s brush revealing its’ beautiful glazed secrets. A native of Los Angeles Blackburn studied Art History and Studio Arts at Boston College, earning a MFA at the Art Centre College of Design, Pasadena. It’s interesting to note that she initially trained as a painter; that skill translated from canvas to clay surface…

#446 11.5″H x 7.5″W. Clay, Stoneware -High Fire
#466 19.5″H x 11″W, #465 20.5″H x 12″W
#454 16″H x 7″W
#467 16″H x 11″W

I love her work! Find out more about this maker on her website here and on instagram here.

The Poet Patrick Lane

I grew up in an era when kids played outside, when you left the house in the morning and didn’t return until you heard your mother calling from the porch for you to come inside. I grew up in a small town not far from where Patrick Lane was born and am familiar with the towns where he spent his young life. It not surprising that his poignant words struck a cord with me the other day when I heard a recording of him speaking at the 2013 convocation at the University of Victoria where he had been granted an Honorary Doctorate of Letters.

Lane died a few weeks ago at the age of 79 and I’m sorry I hadn’t known of him sooner. He’d had no formal education beyond high school and despite childhood dreams of becoming a painter the realities of marriage and children in his early 20’s pushed his life in another direction. Work took him around the province; as a truck driver, a sawmill worker, an industrial first aid person and a salesman. Somewhere in all that though he found time to write. He describes those early years…

‘I always wanted to be an artist, even from the time I was a child. In my early twenties, when I was married and had three kids, I started to write because I couldn’t afford to paint… We were poor. But I did have this little tiny, portable typewriter made out of tin cans and that terrible yellow paper you could buy. And I tapped and tapped away. And I remember writing some poems and I sent them away to Canadian Forum magazine and they wrote back a great letter and they published all of them and I thought, ‘Wow, this is what I want to do with my life.’ (via: The Next Chapter)

At 26 he was devastated by the loss of his brother to a brain hemorrhage and a year later moved his family to Vancouver. Trauma followed with the shooting murder of his father 4 years later sending his life in yet another direction; divorce and a move to South America to write full time. As he would later write: ‘I think it was poetry that saved me from killing myself or killing others’.

In 1972 he returned to BC and married a for 2nd time but a combination of alcoholism, cocaine abuse and a chance meeting with fellow poet Lorna Crozier at a literary conference ended that marriage 6 years later. Eventually overcoming his addictions Lane would go on marry Crozier, writing several fiction and non-fiction books and a whopping 25 volumes of poetry over the 50 year span of his career. He would become Writer-in-Residence at the University of Manitoba (1978) and teach creative writing and Canadian literature at the University of Saskatchewan (1986-90) and at the University of Victoria (1991-2004). He won the Governor General’s Award for Poetry (1978) and the Governor General’s Award for Literary Excellence (2007), the Canadian Authors Association Award, and The Order of Canada (2014) along with three National Magazine Awards. All this from a kid who grew up in a small town and who never forgot it.

Anyway, here’s that convocation address he gave in 2013…

You can find out more about Patrick Lane on his website here.

Patrick Lane with Lorna Crozier. Image courtesy of Chilliwack Progress

Take Note…

Starting after this post I’ll be slowing the barrage of entries on this blog from a weekly one to one that’s monthly instead. It’s not because there’s a shortage of makers out there though. It’s more because I know how much I dislike getting notifications in my own inbox that I likely don’t have time to read and I figure you probably feel the same. Aaaand as they say…absence makes the heart grow fonder. Or is it that good things come to those who wait? Either way expect fewer posts after today.

Thanks for taking time out of your busy day to look at this blog. Thanks for following 🙂

Gilda Midani

I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t have a soft spot for clothing, especially when it’s hand made from natural fibres…linen, cotton and wool. It has a lovely rawness to it compared to all those fast fashion ‘made-in-china’ clothes stuffed onto racks at any big box retailer. And yes, I know natural textiles are hard on the ol’ wallet but a $10 t-shirt also comes at a cost that’s often less visible; in human and environmental terms.

Now, as someone who spends 98% of the week in jeans, t-shirts and sweaters I can only dream of owning pieces by Gilda Midani. From her website…

‘I strongly believe that comfort makes the body peaceful. And that elegance and beauty are the natural outgrowth of that feeling. Our pieces are made entirely by hand, many loving hands, for a single purpose: to make you feel as free as possible’

‘I’ve always sought inspiration in folk and primitive cultures, in utilitarian garments of modern times. Much more than in the world of fashion, which I respect and admire, but it’s not where I belong. Materials are cottons, linens, silks, woven, in all their different forms, textures and threads; sometimes even synthetics, just for fun. I focus on varying the scale, the proportions, and the finishing of those basic forms which I consider insuperable, and above all working the textile with the most exquisite manual techniques, from the primitive beeswax batik to the ancient shibori of Japan, with pigments ranging from the traditional plant-based to silicone, plaster and even iron oxide. The only rules are to maintain quality, guarantee comfort and create beauty. To achieve this, anything goes!’


Midani’s path to making clothes is a meandering one that spans decades beginning in the 90’s when when she designed costumes for theatre and opera. Photography and set design also shaped that path and in 2014 she launched her first clothing collection.

This ain’t rocket science I know but I’d rather support a maker like Midani if it means limiting the thousands of pounds of t-shirts and jeans churned out every year by invisible owners of poorly ventilated factories and the hundreds of kilometres of shipping required to fill those overstuffed racks at Joe Fresh (see the silent costs of the shipping industry here). As challenging as it is I’d rather support hand-made when possible. And oh my, those hands are what make her clothing worth it…

You can find out more about this talented maker on her website here or follow her on Instagram here.

Gilda Midani. Photo courtesy of Murilo Meirelles / JP Magazine




Pippin Drysdale

Landscape as Muse

We’re well into the first week of March and it’s snowing outside. Such a pain, but that may explain why I’m drawn to the work of Pippin Drysdale today. It seems to be reaching through my computer screen here; I can almost feel the warmth of those rounded forms on my fingers.

Installation: Flowering Time. Porcelain, closed forms

Australian-born Drysdale has been making her beautiful ceramic pieces for decades but if it weren’t for several events early on in her life she might not have stumbled across clay at all. Born into a wealthy family in the oh-so-leafy suburb of Toorak in Melbourne she’s said to have developed a rebellious streak in childhood due to an undiagnosed vision problem that was later corrected at age 12. Later, moving with her family to Western Australia and following high school she would go on to being expelled from business college and failing all subjects at technical college. The business world’s loss and humanity’s gain I’d say. A series of short term jobs in Australia and the UK and a year of travel in Europe ended with her returning to Australia in the early 1960s and a 5 year marriage that ended in 1972. So, where do the ceramics come in I hear you ask. I’m getting to that.

In the early 1970s Drysdale started ‘Pip’s Flowers’ in Melbourne selling her own handmade paper flowers. I suppose it didn’t last because she soon returned to Western Australia, starting a business selling fresh herbs that would eventually be sold across Western Australia (take that business college) and where she commissioned a potter to produce clay vessels to hold the herbs. And that ladies and gentlemen is where she was introduced to the intriguing world of clay. The potter became a friend and built a kiln for her in her back yard where she started making her very own small pots and goblets (I wonder if she still has any of those first pieces). Talk about a circuitous path to finding one’s raison d’etre, and proving that you don’t necessarily need to succeed in grade school or business college to succeed in life.

Driven by her growing passion she obtained an Advanced Diploma in Ceramics from Perth Technical College in Western Australia in 1981 and later completed a study/work tour of Italy and the US in 1982. Three years later she obtained her Bachelor of Arts (Fine Art) from Curtin University in Western Australia and in 1997 was selected to be a Research Fellow at the School of Art, Curtin University of Technology. I’m thinking her grade school teachers would’ve been surprised that she would go on to be awarded with both a Master of Australian Craft in 2007 and a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011 from Artsource.

Drysdale is inspired by the astounding hues, forms and vastness of her homeland and other remote places across the globe…

Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), Northern Territory, Australia. Photo courtesy of https://ulurutoursaustralia.com.au/blog/exploring-the-olgas/

‘She draws inspiration from the colours and textures of landscape, and her emotional interpretations of place and space are injected into each of her pieces. Pippin focuses in particular on the vast, diverse Australian landscape and has created series based around the patterns and colours of the Pilbara region, the eastern Goldfields, the Kimberley, and the Tanami Desert. She has also travelled overseas to draw inspiration from the dips and peaks of Pakistan, India, Russia and Italy’ (via: The Government of Western Australia).

Check out her website where she’s happy to share her wealth of experience about techniques and look for her on Instagram here. Lovely.

Devils Marbles I-III. Porcelain, closed forms. W110cm x D40cm
Shepherd’s Delight, 2015













Seedpod Burst, 2018

Takeuchi Kouzo – Modern Ruins

Porcelain: the word makes me think of thinness and paleness, translucence and fragility, the antithesis of all the ugly chunky coffee mugs and scratched ikea dinnerware I have in my cupboards. (how do I survive such a wretched existence?) I’d trade them all for just one sculpture by Takeuchi Kouzo though. In his skilled hands porcelain is something rare and beautiful, a play of light and shadow on velvety smoothness, a state of sculptural decay captured forever.

Before I go any further here let’s take a closer and very brief look at porcelain:

  • it was first discovered in China somewhere between AD 25 – 220
  • it’s a type of clay that contains the mineral kaolin amongst other things like metals (alkali and aluminum) with a paste-like quality
  • it’s deep white in colour
  • it’s durable compared to bone china
  • it fires at a higher temperature than bone china

Back to Japanese-born Kouzo who graduated from the Osaka University of Arts majoring in ceramics (2001) and the Tajimi Municipal Ceramic Design Institute, Gifu (2003). He developed his ‘Modern Remains’ series accidentally when, after knocking a sculpture he was readying for an upcoming exhibition he liked what he saw in the resulting broken forms. He explains it better here (via Keiko Art International)…




Kouzo’s pieces contradict what most artists in that field would probably want to avoid – breakage and destruction. But they speak of his younger self, inspired at a young age by images of decaying civilizations, of ruined architecture and as he says…

‘I want to make people feel the passage of time over my pieces. When people see the remains of a culture or decayed buildings, they evoke special emotions. I want to express not only the ruins themselves, but also the atmosphere surrounding them and their strong presence. In other words, I want the audience to feel exactly how I felt when I looked at the destroyed buildings and ruins’.(via ceramicsnow.org)

Takeuchi Kouzo…check out his amazing work 🙂

Modern Remains M, 2006. W 53cm D 31cm H 35cm


Modern Remains, 2006. Glazed Porcelain

Modern Remains

Modern Remains, Lightening, 2016 56cm x 32cm x 105cm

Modern Remains W, 2006. 57cm x 60cm x 25cm

Elad Guterman

First off, let me apologize for the tiny jpegs in this post. I stumbled across the work of Elad Guterman today but it seems all the images I’ve found online from his website are in webpage format (which I don’t have the smarts to alter). So be aware that this is a small sampling of his portfolio and that I highly recommend checking out both his website and his instagram feed.

Born in Israeli and currently living on a kibbutz in the northern part of that country Guterman graduated from the Tel Hai Arts Institute, Jewellery. He collects his raw materials mostly from his work and home environments and describes some of his process here…

‘Everything around me, everything that is thrown, broken, spoiled, rusted, is raw material for me, I start with clay, the material is the first inspiration, now what does it remind me’

‘A shelf from tin turns into trees, scraps of iron become flowers, houses look like an old wooden surface turns into wings – the process by which ostensibly waste becomes an aesthetic concept and takes on a different meaning, personal and emotional’

I don’t know about you but I have only a vague idea about what life is like on a kibbutz (which means ‘gathering’) so I did a little research and found this via https://www.touristisrael.com

‘A kibbutz is a type of settlement which is unique to Israel. A collective community, traditionally based on agriculture, the first kibbutz was called Deganya and was founded by pioneers in 1910. Today, there are over 270 kibbutzim in Israel and they have diversified greatly since their agricultural beginnings with many now privatized. Regardless of their status, the kibbutz offers a unique insight into Israeli society, and are fascinating places to visit’.

Of course it’d take more than a blog post to delve into the complexities of all that Israel is today but I’m guessing that the first zionists wanting to settle there encountered a lot of hardship in turning previously inhospitable land into agriculturally thriving communities (not that all kibbutzim are strickly agriculture-based these days). They had to start from scratch. I sense that same ethos in Guterman’s work. It’s raw and hand-produced from whatever materials he can source. Waste is given new purpose. I particularly love his casting setup which you can see on his website. Unlike moi who complains bitterly about having to drive 40 kms. to get my stuff cast by a company in Vancouver, this maker has built his own forge/form equipment; just way more basic and immediate and therefore cooler. Check him out.

Castings in Aluminum



Ring VIII. Silver, Reused Wood

Detail: Wall Sculpture. Metal & Iron Waste

Canteen IV. Alpacca, Rubber. 54x22x15
Table, Wood. 2013. 25x58x28, 46x40x25, 64x30x25
Necklace. Silver, Alpaqua, Copper


Silver + Heat

In my small world there’s nothing quite as beautiful as organic texture; like the chunky rough planes of a mountain rock face cut in light and shadow, or the layered hide of a tree trunk, gnarled by decades. I find it difficult capturing those surfaces on a piece of metal though. Yes, I’ve carved a replica of a natural texture in wax and although I’ve not tried it I could make a rubber mold of an organic object and cast it. Or there’s sand and surface casting that make some great textures too.

Pink Wax Texture Experiment
Blue Wax Carving

Sand Casting of Coral

But is there a way to transform a smooth piece of sterling silver wire or sheet into chaotic gorgeousness without all that fuss and equipment? If you own a propane or acetylene torch and a ceramic brick then the answer is yes…because sterling silver + heat = texture.

It’s good to know (especially if you’re new to jewellery making) that sterling silver is made up of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper (added to increase hardness). As you heat it with a gentle to medium flame it begins to glow dark red. At that moment the piece is annealed…previously disorganized molecules become more organized. With continued heating molecules of copper in the piece which have a higher melting point than the silver begin to migrate to the surface. You’ll know this because the surface will turn from silver to black.

Copper (AKA Fire-scale) on Sterling Silver Wire

If you quench the piece (in water) and pickle it (in an acid solution which removes the fire-scale) and repeat that heat/quench/pickle cycle 10-15 times, a layer of pure silver will gradually accumulate at the surface while the copper beneath (remember it has a higher melting point) will begin to ripple with the silver flowing over it. And that’s where the weird wavy patterns on the surface become apparent. The process is called reticulation and you can read more about it here. I love the randomness of it and am playing with my heat level and the surface I’m melting on – ceramic brick, charcoal etc. So many variables and so much fun.

Below is my latest sampling of textured bits and pieces; 2 twigs that I sand casted, a large (6 gauge) link (bottom left), a twist of brass wire I fused with sterling silver (top centre) and some molten silver plops that formed when I heated them on my brick. And it’s those plops that have me all excited about trying to make larger pieces. It’s that particular gritty texture that I’m looking for. It’s not a mountain cliff or a tree trunk but it’s getting close. 🙂

Cheers.

Reticulated Samples

Mary Pratt

Is it just me or are we a nation looking outward when it comes to artistic talent? Or is it that I’m just waaaay out of the loop when it comes to Canadian Art? Probably. I don’t remember when or where I first came across the astounding work of realist painter Mary Pratt but I do remember feeling drawn to it; domestic scenes painted in luscious colours. And that light that made you believe you just had to reach through the canvas to feel the sun’s warmth in a scene or run your fingers along the plastic wrap, paper and tinfoil she rendered so well.

Born in Fredericton, New Brunswick in 1935, young Mary (West) grew up in a prosperous household. Her dad, a lawyer (who would go on to became Attorney-General of the province) and her mom (who seems to have had no career other than housewife…not that there’s anything wrong with that) encouraged her early artistic nature. At 18 she attended Mount Allison University just 2 hours down the road to study Fine Art. There she met and would later marry her first husband, painter Christopher Pratt. They would have 4 children together and despite the challenges of raising them Mary was somehow able to find the time to paint during those years. Now, I don’t know about you but I’d find it tough getting the time and energy to paint with even one child around. And if that wasn’t enough, then her ability to beautifully capture the most minute details of her everyday subject matter was astounding.

Salmon on Saran, 1974

It seems that subject matter had the Canadian art scene confounded though. Was that salmon a metaphor for simple domesticity or was it whispering something much more unsettling, something feminist? Oh my! Was she just a wife and mom painting pretty pictures, “the visual poet of the kitchen” as a Globe and Mail critic called her? Or was she making a statement about the wretched place of women in society? She definitely existed in another era…where people grew fruits and vegetables and preserved them and where their caught food was cleaned and prepared. Was it so terrible that those simple subjects captivated her? It’s said that she jumped up one day at the dinner table ready to paint the scene in front of her and that when her husband told her the light in the room was changing too fast he quickly got his camera and took a photograph of the table. Later with the developed slide Pratt was able to capture the scene as she’d intended, amazing light falling across a seemingly mundane subject. Her decision to use photographic slides to paint from after that was of course frowned upon by others and this criticism hurt her so much that she stopped painting for a time in 1970. Tisk tisk. Such a shame.

Supper Table, 1969. Oil on canvas, 61cm x 91.4cm
Smears of Jam, Lights of Jelly, 2007. Oil on canvas 40.6 x 50.8 cm

I have to say I love her paintings and I don’t want to pigeon hole them as feminist or otherwise. I guess they’re capable of saying many things. But if she took a position about her life as a woman then she said it best herself when she began painting nudes…

“I really didn’t think that women should paint nudes. I thought that if you didn’t have an erotic reaction to a nude, you probably shouldn’t paint it, because wasn’t that what it was all about?…then, I began to think about it, and thought, “How ridiculous. If anybody has the right to paint the naked female, it’s another woman. It’s not a man at all.” And when I looked through the canon of naked women painted by men, there they were, these voluptuous beauties ready to say, “Well, climb aboard!” and I thought, “That’s not what women are like. We are not like that.” And so I changed my mind.” {Mary Pratt quote from exhibition wall text} via slingshotsandarrows wordpress

Girl in a Wicker Chair, 1978
Eggs in an Eggcrate, 1975

Service Station, 1978

Bags, 1971 Oil on masonite 45.7 x 63.5 cm