ASKING FOR IT – a special rant on International Women’s Day

March 8th, 2017

This morning I awoke with every intention of going into the studio for a major clearing session. I’d just put two large projects to bed and relished the thought of restoring order to the chaos that my fabric stash had become.

Complete with hula hoops, long story.

But then I remembered: today is International Women’s Day.  And I have a simmering rant to share, reanimated by an email I received only yesterday from an American quilting magazine’s editor. Her request closely ran as follows, with some edits to protect her identity:

She was writing a series of articles on how to stitch (particular styles of) quilts, and showcasing the quilts of various artists for examples. In her article for an upcoming issue, she was focusing on ‘a certain topic’. She came across my ‘wonderful’ website in her research for this article, and hoped I would agree to having three of my quilts (listed) shown in this article. She needed full and detail high resolution photos of each quilt, with its name, dimensions and copyright date, and a paragraph or so about how I accomplished the quilting, my thread choices and why I chose those threads, and what machine was used. She also needed a statement giving my nonexclusive permission to publish this quilt in print and digital media. She concluded by adding she was working on a very short deadline, so would appreciate it very much if I would get back as soon as possible.

Now, since I do not subscribe to magazines in general, I had never heard of this publication.  I generously assumed this was a recent startup, with an editor who, though polite enough, hadn’t quite mastered the etiquette of asking for a favour. Upon Googling, I learned that this is a large publication with physical and online subscriptions, with a Facebook following numbering over 200,000 Likes. Hello?

With my usual empathy for deadlines, I quickly sent my standard response,
“Thank you for your invitation.
I am wondering what is your fee to artists for using their images and information? There was no mention of this but I’m sure your publication compensates artists for their contribution to its success.”

And the swift response was,
“ … we do not pay a fee to artists for this type of publicity. If that is something that you would require, I’m afraid I won’t be able to include your beautiful work in the article.”

Hmm.

Fair enough. I don’t blame the editor. Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free? And citing ‘publicity’ is the gold standard for this type of response. Translation: “the excellent exposure we provide for you should be enough renumeration in itself!”

If I accepted all offers of free exposure, I would have little time or energy left to do the real work in my life. Artists have been known to ‘die of exposure’.

But sadly, there’s nothing new here. I am frequently asked by commercial publications to contribute articles and images for free. I am not alone. I don’t know a single artist, textile or other, professional or hobbyist, man or woman, who has not been mined for free stuff, from auction donations to images for calendars, to public presentations.

Many requests come from a good place, with charitable intent, and I’m pleased to accept some of these commitments as part of my desire to make the world a better place, with gratitude for my luck and ability to be able to contribute. But over the years I’ve learned that commercial forces try very hard to prey on this generosity as well as the gullibility of new and emerging artists, and women are excellent targets. After all, isn’t the crucial work of mother, homemaker, family cook and social supporter usually done for free? Isn’t your quilt making part of that?

I make my living as a textile artist. Historically, very little has come back from free images and articles I provided to quilt magazines over my thirty years of professional practice. I’ve had articles published in Canada, Europe, Britain, the US, and Australia, and only one time has anyone contacted me for a (very small) purchase, and not one offer to teach paid workshops. This, after hours spent collecting the information, and wrapping it up the way the editor wants it – just the tip of an iceberg when taking into account the making of the artwork itself and all the years it took to get there. Moreover I’m struck by the realization that editors who ask for free services, and the audiences who enjoy it, likely earn a more stable income (with benefits) than I can ever hope to reach with my full time work in art making.  They are essentially feeding on my creativity while giving nothing back.

The problem is endemic. I wonder – Do we, as female quilt artists, offer ourselves up too cheaply? And what about the editors, many of whom are female? Do they not hold some responsibility?

As quilters and textile artists, it is time to stand up for ourselves whether we are professionals or hobbyists, and ask for financial compensation for the use of our words and images. It does work! One of my favourite successes was to convince a Seminar Series organizer at a local University to pay artists for their presentations. I am happy to say I was the first artist to receive an honorarium. My seminar was released online and got thousands of views, many times more than any previous count. It was excellent publicity for them. Both sides won. This is how we need to approach it. Ask politely. Explain. Enlighten.

And for certain quilt magazine editors, I respectfully suggest that you reconsider your historic stance of not paying your art contributors. Artists have a most difficult time earning income, yet their audience enjoys the visual benefits for free. Especially in this age of digital sharing, artists are already giving their imagery away. Of this I do not complain: this is one of the beauties of the visual arts and it brings me great joy to share. However, if there is no renumeration for creative work that brings profit to others, eventually the very foundation of your livelihood is undermined, as is mine.

On International Women’s Day and every other day, I want to see women supporting women where it counts. Please consider being part of the solution.  Stand up and ASK FOR IT.

Let’s help each other! Your opinions and experiences, successes and failures, are most welcome in my Comments box.

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Canadian Comfort

February 18th, 2017

Lately I’ve enjoyed portraying particular trees, either for the great stories associated with them, or because of their exalted status as Designated Heritage Trees. In my search for a tree that might exemplify the true Canadian spirit to honour Canada’s 150th anniversary (and to submit to a local juried show), I came across a truly marvelous specimen who lives in Pelham, Ontario in our Niagara Peninsula.

The Comfort Maple on home turf

The Comfort Maple is believed to be the oldest and finest sugar maple tree in Canada. It lives on half an acre of land purchased by the Comfort family in 1816 and later entrusted to the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, to protect it for its historical and biological significance. In 1975, the tree was estimated to be 400-500 years old by the Ontario Forestry Association. This tree towers about 80 feet at its crown, with a trunk circumference of 20 feet, which is crazy huge for a sugar maple. Despite its age and exposure to at least two bouts of lightning, this is one stunning tree in all seasons.

How to portray the story of this lone giant? I looked at all the available images from winter to fall, checking colour variations, bark texture, position of branches and location in the landscape. I found several articles that discussed its history, age, and issues of preservation. I was struck by the thought that, at 500 years old, this great old maple must have germinated in old growth forest, yet now it finds itself surrounded by tilled land with no other trees nearby. I wanted to bring this contrast of past and present into the piece.

I started with a coloured thumbnail drawing that included a field and shadowy forest in the background, shown during the day, in the fall season. But sadly, the design lacked that certain ‘je ne sais quoi’.

Drawing #1

Why not change it to night, I debated, for a stronger sense of mystery? The shadowy forms behind the tree would recall the primordial forest which existed when the maple was a tender seedling. In front of the tree could stretch the rows and furrows of its newer agricultural surroundings.

Drawing #2

Fine then, Drawing #2 it was! But… maybe a change of frame shape… should I make it a bit deeper to show more of the field rows? Hmm.

Time passed (insert sound of sewing machine, and some thread, cottons, silks, yarns)….

And voila!

The Comfort Maple
Framed textile 24×36″

In my sketches for a new piece, I rarely put in all the details. A lot of the good stuff happens right on the piece itself. I trust that as I focus on the theme for those long hours, fresh relevant ideas will come. As I began the background work I wondered how to address the long interval in time between sapling to ripe old age. What if we could tap the half-century long memory of this magnificent specimen? So I added a small closed door in the trunk, to honour the stories it might love to tell us, if only it could.

Because I’m an artist. I can do anything.

The little blue door

For colours – that particular bronzy yellow/orange from one of the fall photos was a frustrating challenge to capture. After some experimentation, I combined five different shades, colours and metallics in tiny snippets to get the right effect.

And the moon… well a rare tree like this can only occur once in a blue moon…. so that choice was made for me.

Happy birthday, Canada!

Blue Moon for the Comfort Maple

Wood artist Marv Ens of Pelham is making beautiful pens from the wood trimmed from this tree. Proceeds from their sales go to the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Foundation to continue their good work. It comes with an embossed display case and a Certificate of Authenticity. At $75, this is THE perfect gift for any environmentalist. To order one, contact Genevieve-Renee Bisson, Foundation Coordinator, Niagara Peninsula Conservation Foundation at (905)788-3135 ext. 260  Website: www.npca.ca.

Comfort Maple pen by Marv Ens.

 

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Winter Apple

December 22nd, 2016

I’m looking out our back window as we speak. A drift of snow fell overnight and the world looks magical. Our old apple tree came with the property and we expect it’s as old as the house itself which was built in 1956, which makes it exactly my age. When we moved here the tree was in dire condition, with branches to the ground and a forest of suckers. It took a few years to get it back into shape and we now enjoy its beauty in all seasons. It even gives us a few delicious, crispy apples every now and then (not a given, given our ‘organic’ practices!).

Our old Apple Tree

I love the shape of this tree. Hawthorns and apples, and indeed many fruit trees, evolved to this wide low shape so that their spring blossoms are easily available to bees. Their graceful horizontal form is also restful to the eye, and I’ve created many pieces with this in mind. Each year provides a fresh take on it.

I will leave you with a bunch of images of my work, some quilts, some framed, in no particular order, relating to the apple and hawthorn, and wish you a beautiful, FRUITFUL New Year!

Apple Seeds 2001 27×31″ Quilted wall hanging

Blue Moon #4 2014 12×24″ framed textile

Faith 2010 30×40″ framed textile

Hawthorn – Red Sky 2003 27×31″ quilted wall hanging

 

Hawthorn 2014 8×16″ framed textile

Hawthorn with blue memory 2000 14×24 quilted wall hanging

Lifeline #1 2013 10×30″ framed textile

 

Little Apple #4 2016 6×12″ framed textlle

 

Little Green 2011 6×6″ framed textile

 

Mystic Apple 2014 12×24″ framed textile

 

Small Orchard #1 2016 10×30″ framed textile

 

Tenacity 2010 16×22″ framed textile

Triumph 2011 30×40″ framed textile

 

Tree House #3 2016 18×36″ framed textile

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On a Wing and a Prayer

December 5th, 2016

Earlier this year in mid-May, I received an invitation from Evan Mitchell, the Musical Director of the Kingston Symphony Orchestra, to create a small suite of works inspired by a special performance of classical music compositions, all of which incorporate birdsong. The three pieces to be performed are: Jennifer Butler’s “And Birds do Sing”, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 ‘Pastoral’.

The concert hall is the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in Kingston, and the lobby is large, beautiful, open, and enclosed by floor-to-ceiling glass overlooking Lake Ontario. The performance is scheduled for March 5, 2017.

Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts’ lobby

Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts’ lobby

I know NOTHING about classical music (picture inner struggle here), but YES struck me as the more interesting option in this case… a new experience! So much to gain, so little to lose! I love birds! So I said YES.

And the invitation gave me plenty of time – an eternity, it seemed! The director provided links to the music, and programme notes to explain the composers’ creative inspiration for each piece. I listened to them while working on other projects, read the back stories, and then hoped something magical would happen.

Time passed…… and passed…

 

When all else fails, I think the greatest motivation possible is a deadline. Having lots of time to do something doesn’t necessarily make the result any better – in fact, it can have quite the opposite effect. So, eager to quit procrastinating, I gave myself a two week time window in November 2016 and trusted I would get there somehow.

leap

Leap of faith

 

How to begin? Obviously, listening (with intent) felt like the best first step. I recorded my main impressions as they progressed: which colours came to mind? how did the music fit the background story? How did I feel along the way? what might all those instrument sounds LOOK like?

I started thinking about the physical form of the pieces. How on earth to capture the various movements and the passage of time? After all, music moves through time but visual imagery needs to encompass everything in one shot. What about this: because a musical piece builds on itself while it plays, and previous sounds lodge in our memory even as we hear the new ones, perhaps the pieces should be tall and vertical, and read from the bottom up!

It didn’t feel right to use representational imagery alone – I wanted to show the feeling and colour of the sounds and didn’t want to limit my visualization. Abstracts they must be! As I began the drawings, I also realized they must be quilted wall panels, as the designs resisted being hemmed in by frames. And technique? It felt most logical to plan for a loose (might we say, imperfect?) form of fabric collage that would allow plenty of freedom of shape and background changes.

It takes hundreds of small decisions like this just to get to first base with any new project. Sometimes I think this is why we tend to procrastinate – it’s hard work and it’s scary! At times, the answers are easy and obvious, but other times we must make a leap of faith, hoping experience and wisdom will serve well.

Mozart Piano Concerto No. 17

I decided to begin with the Mozart which was the most accessible to me: a rich melodic piano piece. It had a charming story to match: Mozart tried to teach the theme to his starling, but the bird couldn’t get it quite right. Mozart was so tickled he wrote the bird’s mistake into his journal.

img_2193

Click on the starling to hear the Concerto

In the design of this wall panel, the starling became the central motif, with the three movements of the concerto settling around him in swirls and swoops of colour.

the-mozart-2016-42x20s

The Mozart 2016 42×20” Fabric Wall Panel

 

Jennifer Butler “And Birds do Sing”
https://soundcloud.com/jaebutler/and-birds-do-sing-2010

The second, by Canadian composer Jennifer Butler, is a modern piece written in 2010, and is the most abstract of the three compositions. The sounds begin with drums in cool waves, dark and tumbling and pierced with high flutes, eventually resolving into a lullaby composed for the composer’s daughter. What does a drum sound look like? Maybe circles… oblong circles? And flutes…. might rise up in long strands? The overall feel of the piece was cool and spring-like, hence I stayed with blues and cooler tones. The panel begins at the base with the rhythm of the drums, then another layer, upon layer until the clear notes of birdsong and lullaby surface.

the-jen-butler-2016-42x20s

The Jen Butler 2016 42×20” Fabric Wall Panel

 

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 ‘Pastoral’
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQGm0H9l9I4

The Beethoven piece was the most complex. Although I incorporated elements of the movements, like a walk by a stream, a storm, birds, and a reference to folk art to represent a peasant dance, I was more interested in the smoother cadence and feeling of the performance, the melodic swings and eddies. The sounds were less emotional than the previous two pieces, so I used a more sophisticated colour palette.

the-beethoven-2016-45x21s

The Beethoven 2016 42×20” Fabric Wall Panel

 

Each of these pieces grew and evolved completely differently. In focusing on and working with them, I learned something intriguing about classical music: that, just like visual art, it begins with a personal story – now I will listen for it. And perhaps when the music lovers at the concert see my interpretations, they might learn something about abstract visual art. My fondest hope is that the music provides an entry point for understanding the abstract imagery, and in return the visual art enriches the appreciation of the music. As with many other occasions when I took the leap, I enjoyed every single minute, and the effects will last a life time!

For purchasing information, please click HERE. All the photography of my work is done by my very talented and dedicated husband, Janusz Wrobel.

starling-1

European starling from frasersbirdingblog.blogspot.co.uk

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The Power of YES

March 8th, 2015

Last week I posted an ‘advice for artists’ article on my Facebook Page about the importance of saying NO in order to carve out time for ART. “Creative People Say No” is an extract from Kevin Ashton’s new book, “How to Fly a Horse  —  The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery.” In this article, creative people (all men, by the way!) were quoted on their use of NO to build walls around that elusive time space needed for creative exploration and production.

But, at least from my point of view, the reality is more like this: picture a studio smack dab in the middle of a busy highway, with lanes curving around this tiny oasis. Is it possible to ignore the sounds of traffic, the honking, the emergency vehicles and the multi-vehicle pileups occurring just outside? Not to mention the distractions coming from within: the trusty iPad twinkling away, and the radio announcing the latest political dramas?

City Lights   2006  19x50"

City Lights 2006 19×50″

The main difficulty, especially for women, is that we thrive on community and connection. Tuning it out, while also remaining open to creative flow, is a creative endeavor all its own. And what does success mean anyway? Wouldn’t this obsession with saying NO lead to unhappy choices in a balanced life?

So I am proposing to turn it around. Instead of selectively saying NO, why don’t we selectively say YES?

Image (2)Before I explain, maybe I should first define success. In the art world, success is the ability to carry through from inspiration to product, and to have that product reach and move an audience. (It is NOT about financial success, which is another animal altogether, distinctly separate from art creation.) I am completely confident in saying that yes, success in the art world does indeed contribute to happiness in the same way any successful interaction does, because it is satisfying to the artist and to the viewer. Communication is the fabric that holds society together. A strong, single minded approach to art-making is a worthwhile pursuit.

CHOOSING THE TOP YESes

At the same time, saying YES to one aspect in life means something has to give. We must decide what we are willing and able to live without. My father always said that it doesn’t matter what you choose, just make your decision and never look back: accept the whole package, positive and negative. So I try to remember that not every single part of my life is going to be perfect. I made a career decision with all my heart and soul, and like a marriage, for better or for worse.

Wilfred A. J. Roy, my greatest inspiration in life.

Wilfred A. J. Roy, my greatest inspiration in life.

Still, none of us is a ‘single purpose creature’. We come from society and we die with society. I believe there is room for a committed, yet balanced, art life. Therefore, for good measure, we need to make room for a few more hard YESes.

Here are my three YESes:

1. YES to Social Connection

Taking care of my Mom and babysitting our grandboy, being there when I am needed for my family. Time with a select circle of friends.

Ubuntu - Source. 43" round  This circular quilt represents connection.

Ubuntu – Source   43″  2014  Lorraine Roy
This circular quilt represents connection.

2. YES to ART

YES to helping and supporting colleagues, both established and emerging, to writing a blog because it helps firm up my own thoughts, and to keeping an active Facebook Page. YES to all the business/client time that arises.

Each time a request for my time and energy comes in, I ask: does this move my art forward, does it support my personal ethics and vision and does it draw on my strengths? Is it an efficient use of my time? Saying YES to ART led to my decision not to participate in committees, societies and group projects. I am not a primarily social creature and the stress was deadly for my work. Here was one solution: our local Carnegie Gallery requires member artists to contribute a number of hours per year, either by joining committees or taking on other tasks. Drawing on my independent streak, I created and managed their first Facebook Page. This meant I worked from home, it segued nicely with my own online time, and it saved them having a non-team player at meetings! For exhibition requests I ask: does this gallery or juried show further my exposure, is it locally relevant, and does it contribute to the perception of quality in the public mind? The answers help me be more selective. I gauge commitments against how much time and distance is involved. Of course, committees are necessary and someone must fill galleries and teach workshops: these are other artists’ YESes, and I feel quite comfortable leaving them to it.

3. YES to Quality of Life

Cooking and enjoying good food and wine, time with select friends, long walks, quiet evenings reading, and gardening. Which means: fewer parties and group activities, less travel, less time shopping, a not perfectly clean house. The resulting NOs have become so automatic I don’t miss them or waste time thinking about them. In the summer it’s a giant, defiant YES to my garden and my home.

Our little grandboy.  Always a YES.

Our little grandboy.
Always a YES.

Instead of asking “How much less will I create unless I say NO?” I ask myself, “How much more will I create if I say YES?” In my art practice, saying YES empowered my choices. If we choose our YESes wisely, the NOs will justify themselves.

Protecting our Art

February 23rd, 2015

Recently I had a dismaying experience with another artist. She had posted an image of mine on her site, claiming it as her own, with my signature removed. She had purchased that tiny piece from me in 2013, and to add insult to injury, she was aiming for a profit at nearly twice the price. And even I can’t sell my 6×6” for $200! Her site eventually shut down after several emails from me, and a groundswell of support from artists and friends all over the world who saw the original post on Facebook.

Breeze #14  6x6" 2013 Note the signature, hard to miss!

Breeze #14 6×6″ 2013
Note the signature, hard to miss!

Hmmmm. Interesting lack of signature

Hmmmm. Interesting lack of signature.

This specific kind of issue is rare, and it is relatively easy to prove and to deal with. A far greater threat, and much more difficult to manage, is copying – a pervasive problem in this digital age, where artists and perps do not know each other or travel in the same spheres.

But I’ve never been one to wring my hands over this stuff. Worrying about where I show my work, whom I show it to, where I post my images, who shares them, who sees them… it’s impossible to control! Pinterest alone is a giant copyright sucker. Yes, I have had work stolen, and yes again, copied. It’s probably still happening as I speak. But who wants to keep every single thing they make under the bed? There is nothing under my bed.

Under my bed, minus the dustbunnies. Isn't photoshop wonderful?

Under my bed, minus the dust bunnies. Isn’t photoshop wonderful?

This post won’t be about Copyright. I am not a lawyer, and the law varies with location. I leave this up to the pros. For many years I have been a paying member of CARFAC (Canadian Artists Representation of Canada), an organization devoted to helping professional Canadian artists gain and maintain respect and fairness in their business. I strongly feel that my support for CARFAC is a kind of insurance for my own and other artists’ integrity in a world that often seems devoted to undermining our work and lives. If a visual artist is in need of legal advice pertaining to her practice, she has access to an extensive connection of printed matter and lawyers via CARFAC. I don’t begrudge them a penny. LOVE.

However, my recent situation got me thinking about how artists can quietly protect and defend themselves should the occasion call for it, without going overboard and feeling nervous every minute. My answer is to keep good records. People always look skeptical when I tell them that 50% of my work is administrative. “Really? Isn’t art supposed to be all about creativity and fun?” Or better yet, “Isn’t the true artistic spirit crushed by administration?” Interesting that administration doesn’t seem to crush health, food production, sports or education. I decided long ago that my creativity includes and embraces administration: I just do it creatively (ie with tea, chocolate, music, or, unfortunately, wine), and I keep it super simple.

Here are four basic administrative tasks I do consistently:

1. Sign work on the front. A contrasting thread in the bottom left or right corner works well. So important if you ever need to prove it’s yours from a photo. In my aforementioned situation, I had solid proof that the artist had removed my signature because I had an original signed photo. Otherwise I had no leg to stand on.

Signing: I made it and I take full credit for it.

Signing: I made it and I take full credit for it.

2. Which leads us to photos: I take photos of every piece made, every single one, before it leaves the studio. Even bad photos are better than nothing. It’s not always possible to get awesome photos of every single thing, but I’ve made a habit of getting a clear shot that includes the signature. Cameras and devices embed the date taken, so I try to photograph a piece soon after finishing it. Then it is stored in a file with its title, year and size in the filename: ie SPRING STORM 2014 16X8. The added benefit is that the title, date and size are right there, ready to send off to a client or gallery. And the image is easy to find alphabetically or though a computer Search.

screen shot art page2

3. Each piece needs its own title (Untitled #22 is better than nothing) included somewhere on the back of the piece or framing structure. This way, if a work is physically stolen, there is also a title to work with. Some artists assign a special numeric system to their works. It’s one of those great ideas I will never personally implement, but I’m all for it. I also just heard about microchipping artwork. Okay, again, not for me but worth mentioning. Thanks, Evelyn!

4. Keep accurate and updated records – title, size, year, date sold, where it sold, to whom if possible, method of payment and amount it sold for. I use a Word table, although were I to begin again, I would use Excel instead. I start a new one every two years. Below is a section from my PIECES 2014-2015 Word file. I fill in whether the pieces are sold, donated, exchanged or uh, decommissioned. Very easy to retrieve and check years later. One friend of mine also embeds the image of the work. I was able to find all that information when the situation above came up – date of sale, amount paid, method of payment, how shipped.

A section of an artwork record file.

A section of an artwork record file.

Once set up, these steps are easy to complete on a regular basis: one, two, three, four. Not only are you prepared for the worst, you are also organized and ready for the business of art.

Now if you find out about an online copyright issue relating to your own work, it’s important to capture Screen Shots of everything. If you don’t know how to do a Screen Shot, look it up on Google. It’s super easy. Then, whether you proceed further or not, there is proof and dates. When you discover copying or any other ethical issue involving another artist, that artist should be contacted immediately and sent the relevant link or photos. What is the next step? One thing for sure, as strongly as you feel, never act with anger and vengeance in mind. Make sure to approach every move with a calm clear attitude and equanimity. (this is an edit: I want to add, please remember to be kind and forgive, if forgiveness is asked for. If this is a first time offender, then she will learn from it and grow. In my own life I have required forgiveness and I am very grateful for having been given the chance to move on and be a better person. The point is not to destroy, but to teach. So keep this in mind, we are all fallible creatures. Now in the case of serial offenders… that’s a different story!)

As for me, my episode with the dishonest artist was more of a curiosity than a downer. There wasn’t much to worry about really: it was an isolated case, by a perpetrator who was clearly unacquainted with basic art ethics (or perhaps any ethics at all). I mean really, what artist can get away for long with peddling other artists’ work? On the plus side, I was very pleased that my accurate records came in handy once again. In any case, theft, copying, and whatever else that comes up in the digital world will never stop me. As long as my body cooperates, my plan is to stay one step ahead. That’s what we artists have in our arsenal, a living well of creativity that will never be crushed. And we have each other. Let’s keep good records, take care of each other and stay vigilant out there!

I invite you to share any other tips or stories you might have to help our art community below. Like my Facebook Page for further updates on this topic and other news.

Heart on my sleeve

February 14th, 2015

I spent a good part of my youth and young adulthood in constant inner and outer turmoil. Great leaps of faith and trust routinely led to an array of unfortunate experiences. But, being young and having the energy for it, I pulled it all together, time after time, and somehow, with great luck and support, came out stronger and better. Though I am grateful for those rash decisions because they led to where I am now, experience showed me that my life is connected to many others, and there is no such thing as a solo jump into the abyss. Everyone comes along for the ride. A sobering thought for this mature, yet still adventurous, spirit.

It’s not this:

SYLVAN SPIRIT #11  2005 16x15"

SYLVAN SPIRIT #11 2005 16×15″  Just me.

It’s more like this:

BURNING BUSH #11 2009 30X10" A dangerous solo leap.

BURNING BUSH #11 2009 30X10″
A dangerous solo leap, don’t know where to.

Enter ART….

And this is how I can officially say: I have not said goodbye to adventure each and every day, and I still wear my heart on my sleeve. Every morning, I get a chance to leap before I think, with the only negative consequence my own disappointment, and perhaps the odd *sometimes* relevant zinger from an itinerant critic. Just last week, I took apart an entire large abstract piece THREE TIMES, frustrated and crying, dumped it all, began again.

LIGHT RAIL 2015 12X36"

LIGHT RAIL 2015 12X36″   Okay, so this is the piece I took apart three times.

No one was hurt, and I didn’t end up on the street! Yet if and when the effort leads to success, there is learning, there is growth, there is enormous satisfaction and pleasure, and there is the chance to share what is in my heart. ART is the WAY. Therefore, on this day devoted to LOVE, I share with you a range of works I made over the years, which were either leaps of faith, or that speak of love in various forms.

I love what I do, I love where it has taken me, and I love sharing it with you. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Below are trees with their seeds, and tree seeds: Seeds are the product of tree love, yes?

RED HUCKLEBERRY 2012 16X8"

RED HUCKLEBERRY and SEED and LEAVES 2012 16X8″

CASUARINA SEED 2008 24X12" From my Seed and Earth series

CASUARINA SEEDS 2008 24X12″ From my Seed and Earth series

CASUARINA DETAIL

CASUARINA DETAIL – Machine embroidery

Who says a heart must be red? Trees see it all so differently.

VERDANT HEART 2013 12X6"

VERDANT HEART 2013 12X6″

Love bridges divides,

SECRET HEART #5 2014 8X8"

SECRET HEART #5 2014 8X8″

… and occasionally goes into dormancy

SECRET HEART #3 2013 6X6"

SECRET HEART #3 2013 6X6″

It’s intensely biological

Ovulation Series #1 2007

Ovulation Series #1 2007

The result of opposing, but complementary forces

COUNTERPOINT DIPTYCH #9 2003  Quilted wall piece

COUNTERPOINT DIPTYCH #9 2003
Quilted wall piece

No container can hold it…. well, maybe this one can?

People always asked me, So what are these for??? Sigh.

Box #6   6x10x6″ People always asked me, So what are these for??? Sigh.

It can be somewhat undecipherable….

LOVE LETTER 2000 43X24" Quilted wall hanging

LOVE LETTER 2000 43X24″ Quilted wall hanging

Or delicate and ephemeral….

BOUQUET #9 2004 37X18"

BOUQUET #9 2004 37X18″

Or very very risky. I made the wall piece below as a gift for a couple who married in a beautiful quarry. I wish I could say that it safeguarded them both as they took their leap, but it did not. Art can’t do everything.

WEDDING IN THE QUARRY 2008 Quilted wall piece, commissioned.

WEDDING IN THE QUARRY 2008 Quilted wall piece

But there is safety in numbers

FISSURE #4 2011 15X30"

FISSURE #4 2011 15X30″

And the solace of a box of bonbons, no matter how things turn out.

BONBONS 1 2008 28X28" Who doesn't love a boxful of bonbons?

BONBONS 1 2008 28X28″
Who doesn’t love a boxful of bonbons?

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Heart of Cold: Ten reasons to embrace winter without Irony

January 31st, 2015

I was born in what is lovingly nicknamed the Banana Belt of Ontario. This flat, intensely agricultural area is nestled in by three lakes: Lake Huron, Lake Erie, and Lake St Clair. Despite the relatively warm climate, serious snowfalls were common, and I grew up loving the endless white expanses and tall accumulations against our farm buildings in winter. It was childhood heaven.

FENCEROW 1 2014 24X24  A country drive in winter

FENCEROW 1 2014 24X24: Collage
A country drive in winter

Each year I reconnect and fall in love again with winter’s stark beauty. Today I share ten good reasons, none of them cliché, to embrace winter’s cold cold heart. Here goes:

1. Contrast – what is life without it? We would never appreciate light if we didn’t know darkness. Or heat, without frozen fingers. I love black and white compositions.

Winter Woods #1 I made this sketch right after that walk – I used big markers because that’s all I could see

Winter Woods #1
I made this sketch right after a local hike, using big markers to keep from getting too fussy.

2. Nature has fun with it – brilliant splashes of colour are more intense against a snowy backdrop.

Red Maple 2008 28X32 Wall mounted quilt

Red Maple    2008   28X32″  Net collage, machine embroidery, appliqué and quilting.

3. Native plants go to bed until spring – they need rest. Good example for all of us.

DARK WOODS 10 2005 28X15

Dark Woods #10   2005   28X15″  Phototransfer of a tree, net collage and machine embroidery.

4.  There’s more going on than the eye can see – stuff is happening under there.

FISSURE 3 2011 16X20

Fissure #3   2011   16X20″  Seeds, fungal spores, insects and other soil organisms burrow down, some die, some hibernate. Roots keep working.

5. You can see farther, especially if you are already short.

DEEP SNOW 5 2004 19X19

Deep Snow #5   2004   19X19″   Phototransfer of treetops, net collage and machine embroidery.

6. You don’t have to worry about deer eating your apples before you do.

The view out my back window after an early snow.

The view out my back window after an early snow.

7. Conifers are still working. They are at the helm!

WINTER MOON #1 2010 12X9"

WINTER MOON #1  2010  12X9″ Conifer leaves are resistant to cold and moisture loss. On cold dry days, their needles curve in to reduce their exposed surface. They continue to photosynthesize, only more slowly, as long as they get enough water.

8. Night skies are enchanting.

TREES I HAVE SEEN 1 2009 2 24X24

Trees I have Seen    2009   24X24″   Net collage, appliqué, machine embroidery.

9. Whether you love pruning or not, there’s no need to do it in February. You can, but you don’t have to.

DARK WOODS 7 2004 28X17

Old Apples #7   2004   28X17″ Phototransfer of trees, net collage, machine embroidery.

10. And we all know: spring will follow in due course ……

To the Light #2  Stitchery on photographic print

To the Light #2  8×4″
Machine stitchery on photographic print, watercolour, fabric collage

 

Small is beautiful

January 23rd, 2015

(This post is the third installment of a creative journey inspired by research on tree root communication. For a bit more background, go to Going Somewhere? Start with a map, and The Mother Tree.)

Trees can’t chase their food, so they must count on resources harvested from their immediate area. Through the process of photosynthesis, they can feed themselves directly from the atmosphere using sunlight and carbon dioxide. But this chemical process also requires plenty of water … and for many trees, a consistent source is not always a given.

Cedar Grove by Janusz Wrobel

Cedar Grove by Janusz Wrobel

From the fungal point of view, water is not a problem. Fungi have the ability to draw water from the most grudging of sources, even from the air itself. They also break down molecules into simpler nutrients that can be absorbed by tree roots. But they are not capable of creating their own food because they do not photosynthesize. Trees and fungi are meant for each other!

Secret Heart #7  6x6"

Secret Heart #7 6×6″

It’s a lovely, romantic idea. But how exactly do these two very different species get together? How does the two-way transfer of water and nutrients work?

In my last post, we saw that a fresh seed root soon introduces itself to the massive fungal network in the top layer of the forest floor. The root tip exudes a natural hormone that awakens fungal spores or strands nearby. In a process called colonization, the alerted fungal strands pierce their way through the epidermis (skin) of the roots. (If this sounds like a terrifying Body Snatcher situation, remember that our own bodies are walking zoos: we have at least ten times as many bacteria, not including yeasts and fungi, as we have human cells.)

Once inside, the fungal strands colonize the root in one of two ways, depending on the species:

Cross section of root tip showing two different types of mycorrhizal colonization. Photo courtesy of the Botany Department at West Virginia University

Cross section of root tip showing two different types of mycorrhizal colonization.
Photo courtesy of the Botany Department at West Virginia University

1) Arbuscular fungi start growing INSIDE root cells along the central core of the root. They are called Arbuscular because once inside the cells, they form tiny tree-like structures: trees inside trees! The large surface area created by their dense canopies is an efficient way to transfer water and nutrients.

2) Ectomycorrhizal fungi spread their strands AROUND root cells, forming a 3-D spongy structure called the Hartig net. The tip of the root becomes enveloped with a pale mantle, easily seen with the naked eye.

Some fungi are specific to particular trees – for example, Arbutus and Maple trees have their own favourite fungal species. But many fungi are non-specific and will colonize trees, grasses and many other plant species. Also, one tree may host several types of fungi at once. The established fungi maintain the flow of water and nutrients through fungal strands that connect their specialized inner root structures with the outer soil network, visible to us in the form of mushrooms and truffles.

A pale swollen mantle is a sure sign of ectomycorrhizal activity on tree roots. From “Relationships between Plants and Fungi”

A pale swollen mantle is a sure sign of ectomycorrhizal activity on tree roots.
From “Relationships between Plants and Fungi”

But the best view of all is under the microscope. When tree rootlets are thinly sliced, treated with special dyes and magnified, it becomes possible to see exactly where and how the two species, tree and fungus, meet and mate.  Electron microscope photographs are bizarre and beautiful, and these are no exception: a gold mine of ideas and eye candy. Below is one of many that drew my attention.

Arbuscular colonization

Electron microscopic image. Arbuscular mycorrhizae are in fuschia. See how they’ve expanded like blobs inside the root cells? Photo by Marc Perkins.

And the quilted panel that it inspired:

ROOT XS 1 2014 22X22S

Root XS #1 2014 22×22″ Quilted wall panel

In this piece my intention was to stay true to the photo so I could learn to manipulate line and shape, but while working on it I began to see great potential for design and content. More adventures ahead in future posts!

ROOT XS 1 2014 DET copy

Detail from my quilted wall panel inspired by a cross section from a tree root with arbuscular mycorrrhizal fungi. I used many kinds of materials, and the technique is machine collage, embroidery and quilting. Note the little trees!

The Mother Tree

January 11th, 2015

In my many years of tree studies, I’ve accumulated a vast and varied assortment of reasons to love trees. I present you here with yet another great excuse: larger trees in a forest actually protect and nurture seedlings and young saplings.

It all begins with a complex system that involves specially evolved intermediaries called mycorrhizal fungi. Their fungal strands form an intimate bond with the tips of tree roots, and help the tree absorb water and nutrients. In return, the tree supplies the fungi with sugars. This network forms a dense mat in the top six inches of the entire forest floor, connecting all the trees in that location. Biologists have known about this root/fungus relationship for a very long time, but new research reveals even more fascinating material: the existence of Mother or Hub trees.

Niagara Escarpment Woods #8 by Janusz Wrobel

Niagara Escarpment Woods #8 by Janusz Wrobel

In a dense forest, the germination and establishment of fresh trees is a challenge: larger trees take up most of the nutrients, and the canopy prevents penetration of light to the forest floor. Ground-level surfaces tend to be inhospitable, and soil quality is poor. What is a seedling to do? What else: it calls on its Mother. In effect, once a seed begins to germinate, it awakens components of the fungal mat that quickly colonize its roots. The seedling thus becomes linked with a large pool of nutrients that connects it to larger, older specimens that have access to light. The more shaded the area, the more resources a seedling can access.

Saplings form strong fungal connections with large, mature trees.

Saplings form strong fungal connections with large, mature trees. Image by Prof Suzanne Simard.

When a mature tree declines and begins to die, she sends her resources back into the network, and it is time for the younger trees to begin nurturing their own young charges.

Fallen by Janusz Wrobel Shows a mature tree, fallen and being absorbed back into the network

Fallen by Janusz Wrobel
Shows a mature tree, fallen and being absorbed back into the network

In even more recent studies, biologists are discovering that a mother tree actually favours her own offspring. At one of the research sites I visited in BC, Amanda Asay, PhD (Does kin selection play a facilitative role in regeneration of forests under climate stress?) was monitoring the survival rate of related and unrelated seedlings. How was this done? Several mature trees were harvested of their seeds. Around each tree was embedded a series of marked mesh bags filled with local soil, into which were planted either the tree’s own seeds, or those of others. Over the next few months, if bears and other wildlife hadn’t harvested them first, a tally of survivors was taken.

Here are a couple of those bags. They are 8x5" in size and allow water and roots to pass through.

Here are a couple of those mesh bags. They are 8×5″ in size and allow fungi and roots to pass through.

At the site, I had the opportunity to see how scientific research really happens. In the muddy trenches of boreal forest, after months of exposure to climate, pests, weed growth and just plain attrition, those little mesh bags were a challenge to find. But yes! I found one! Then another, not too far away!… soon we were expert at detecting the minutest bit of white mesh buried in forest scruff. This and other adventures renewed my deep respect for biologists working in the field.

Here we are visiting Amanda's research site, looking for tiny mesh bags of seedlings. Amanda is wearing the red jacket.

Here we are visiting Amanda’s research site, looking for tiny mesh bags of seedlings. Amanda is wearing the red jacket.

Of course, I love the idea that trees might be altruistic: it certainly captures the imagination. However, biologists are quick to share the truth: the evolution of the mycorrhizal relationship has much more to do with the health and survival of species and communities, than what we humans identify as true altruism. The chemistry behind these processes is well documented. Never mind! Scientific explanations are much richer and more engaging than any romantic notion I can come up with – eventually it all connects and makes its own wild beauty. Science is the real magic: as long as we have inquiring minds, our knowledge and appreciation of the world will continue to grow, and so will our sources of inspiration.

LifeLines  2015  30x10" Saplings thriving with the support of a mature tree in the forest. The fungal connections are just visible at the roots.

LifeLines 2015 30×10″  Lorraine Roy
Saplings thriving with the support of a mature tree in the forest. The fungal connections are just visible at the roots.

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