Posts Tagged ‘enhancing creativity’

Thinking in Circles – The Root Language of Trees

Wednesday, January 10th, 2018

Greetings and Happy New Year!

In my last blog post, I described how my touring exhibition of round wall hangings, Woven Woods, came to be. This collection is now launched at its first venue at Art Gallery of Burlington and will be there until January 28, 2018. It will then move on to several other venues until 2021. You can imagine that after four years of dreaming and working toward this goal, it might be hard to let it go.

Woven Woods at Art Gallery of Burlington
Dec1 – Jan 28, 2018

Well, not surprisingly, it turns out that circles are simply irresistible. No sooner had I finished the last wall hanging for Woven Woods, an intriguing new direction presented itself. I was checking out images of cut tree trunks, when it occurred to me that tree rings have a great deal to say. They tell us about a tree’s history, about growth and aging, about endurance, about how their stories grow from the heart and mark them forever. Circles are symbols of eternity and commitment. I thought that these tree rings might help me better understand trees, from the inside out.

As I studied various types of cut tree stumps and their rings, it struck me how differently trees must experience their world from that of humans. As mobile bilateral beings, we humans interpret our surroundings from the centralized perspective of our brain. Trees however are radial beings, with no bundled nervous system, and live their entire lives in a fixed position. In spite of these limitations, we know now that they developed sophisticated ways to communicate with each other. Wouldn’t it then be natural to wonder if trees might share their consciousness with beings like us? Moreover, is it possible for us to reach out to them too?

Right around that time, the movie Arrival came out. The film is based on a short story in “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang. In the story, an alien ship lands on earth, and the life forms on it, mobile radial beings, are desperately attempting to communicate. A specially trained linguist is hired to decipher their written language, which is comprised of intensely ornamented circles and spirals. By the end of the movie, we understand that these beings use a communication system that incorporates time – past, present and future – in each of their missives. Time for them is measured in a circular way. This new language is in fact their special gift to us – reminding us that we must always take into consideration the karmic effect of our thoughts and actions. This led to an exciting AHA! moment for me, in support of a fresh approach to relational experience.

Could not find the creator of this wonderful cartoon 🙁

Of course, in my online research I came across numerous techniques for approaching and communing with trees – some arising from ancient cultures, others that seemed, well, just made up. Here is one of the better examples, a very detailed series of steps of Chinese origin: How to befriend a Tree. As I’ve said before, I’m a doubting Thomas when it comes to most of this new age stuff. Still, my direct experience tells me there is a distinct field of energy that surrounds each tree, and the strength varies greatly from one to another. I can feel it. I wonder, does the tree also feel me?

Wind in the Willow #2
12×12″

Working with tree rings in fabric is a rare delight – there is an unlimited scope for play and ornament using the wealth of shapes and structures that nature provides. I layer circle upon circle of fabrics, stitch them down, and start the journey using free-motion embroidery on my sewing machine.  Each one is a fresh meditation, leading me along a slightly different path. As I make more, I discard some motifs while bringing in new ones. With these pieces I put myself into the heart of the tree and work outwards, letting the prints and colours guide the choices. They take a long long time to make.

Mother Oak
16×16″ 2017

Might tree rings help us understand the language of trees? Is it possible that a tree’s consciousness extends, aura-like, beyond the rough bark of its exterior, like radiating tree rings? Do trees embrace the full cycle of time as they witness the world around them? These are questions I continue to ask as I explore the imagery and possibilities. As I walk in the woods I try to stay open to the fresh perspectives my art has opened up for me.

Heartwood – Hawthorn
12×12″ 2017

You may well ask, is all this just a stretch? Maybe. But not long ago, inter-plant communication was also considered a stretch. Our scientists have now proven it true. The First Nations people honour and speak to trees. Perhaps in the near future, we will determine without doubt that they are indeed reaching out to us, and are only waiting for us to accept their gift.

Communion #2
8×16″ 2017

Woven Woods: A Journey through the Forest Floor

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

At long last I can tell you about a major collection I’ve been working on for nearly five years, soon to be exhibited at Art Gallery of Burlington, ON. This project has been on my brain since the initial idea found me, and naturally I’m excited, if only to be able to see it at last on a gallery wall.

An exhibition is coming! An exhibition is coming!

If you’ve been following my posts, you will know I’ve been working with a number of natural concepts, centered mainly around trees and tree biology. The current research that interests me most is about tree communication, particularly the mechanics of how trees send and receive nutrients and messages through their roots with the help of forest fungi.

Here is a short description of this natural process, which I’ve described in greater detail in earlier posts (including this one):
In the top six inches of the forest floor lies a vast and flourishing communication system as old as photosynthesis itself: an exquisitely balanced symbiotic relationship between mycorrhizal fungi and tree roots which provides a network of channels for resources and messages between individual trees. The resulting plant chatter is as complex and efficient as our own worldwide web. In recent research, biologists have also discovered the existence of Mother trees: larger, older specimens that, with the help of their fungi, serve as system hubs in life, and as nutrient pumps in death. This mycorrhizal network thus connects and stabilizes the forest, and by extension, our entire planet’s biosphere.

Fascinated by this current research, I applied for an Ontario Arts Council Grant to travel to the University of British Columbia and meet Dr Suzanne Simard who is a leader in this field. Together with her and some of her gracious Grad students, I toured her lab on campus and her field facilities through the mountains to Kamloops. It was an eye-opening experience.

Dr Suzanne Simard in her natural element, the forest.

I couldn’t wait to share my reverence for this ancient forest system, not only for its own sake but also because we have so much to learn from nature for our own survival on earth. After visiting Dr Simard I spent three years of sometimes excruciating trial and error, trying to nail down the best way to portray the process, without having it look like some kind of neo-artsy science project. You will not believe the crazy things I drew on paper, the weird thoughts I thought, and the strange clunky semi-formed beings that were born and died. And all the hours of sleep lost over flashes of brilliance, while awakening to yet another non-germinator.

What IS that thing?

But something finally clicked – I kept coming back to it with many of my earlier concepts and realized that the most logical way to show connection was with the CIRCLE. The circle is not only present everywhere in the natural world, including the shape of our planet, but it’s also symbolic of environmental cycles of all types from seasonal to reproductive to regenerative. Not to mention, the circle is inherently spiritual and beautiful.

From there, it was a matter of choosing technique, size, and cohesive elements. How many to make? Which materials? Is my 45-year old Bernina up to the task? Am I? I’d rarely worked with circular designs before – what might be the challenges?

While reading as many research articles I could find for inspiration, I drew and drew and drew dozens of coloured samples… trying out designs, layouts, colours, concepts.

One of many ideas in pencil and pen.

I decided to make quilted wall hangings rather than framed works, because I didn’t want to feel limited to any particular size or standard ‘look’. Each was to have an organic shape of its own, unencumbered by the rigid expectations of a square format. And thus began a new journey for me, working in a larger format and in the round. Once I’d made the first, I was hooked.

Ubuntu- Source 2014 47″
The very first one.

The resulting collection, entitled Woven Woods, is a series of twelve round quilted wall hangings, measuring 36 to 46″ in diameter, each depicting twelve trees of varying types, seasons and stages of growth, and portraying a different aspect of their connection with the mycorrhizal net. I chose the number twelve because in numerology it is the ‘number of completion’, and it is found almost ubiquitously in our measuring and mathematical systems, our measuring of time, and in several key spiritual and astronomical concepts. Each circle encloses the story of a thriving ecosystem, where all individual elements contribute to support the whole. The word Ubuntu, given as a prefix to each title, is an African word which means “I am, because you are.”

Ubuntu – Winter
2015 46″

For materials, I used fabrics of all kinds, mainly dyed and printed cottons, some silks, a variety of synthetics and sheers, and cotton batting. The surface technique is raw edge appliqué enhanced with machine embroidery. In a few of them I also used acrylic paint for shading effect. They are all machine quilted, and hang flat with the help of a ‘brilliant’ (ie, my own secret idea) structural framework on the back.

You can see them all HERE.  If you click on the photos you will see a description of the inspiration for each quilt and a relevant quote or poem.  Or you are so very welcome to see them in person wherever they may be. They really are better in the flesh.

These three graciously accompanied me to a lecture – their first time in the limelight!

This collection will be shown for the first time at the Art Gallery of Burlington, Ontario, from Dec 1, 2017 to Jan 28, 2018 as part of ‘Holding by a Thread’, with Line Dufour, Carole Baillargeon and Kelly Jane Bruton. It will then tour until 2021. Please see my Upcoming Events page for locations and dates. The pieces in this collection will be available for purchase at the end of their exhibit run.

Thank you thank you thank you, Ontario Arts Council!

 

The Power of YES

Sunday, 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.

Heart on my sleeve

Saturday, 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?

I invite you to subscribe to my blog… there’s a box up on the right sidebar where you can enter your email address. You won’t get deluged with posts, I promise!

Heart of Cold: Ten reasons to embrace winter without Irony

Saturday, 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

Friday, 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

Sunday, 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.

The Courage to be Blue

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014

I have used trees as inspiration for my art for a very very long time. It’s a tremendously engaging subject for many reasons, but the tree is also incredibly flexible as a motif. Many designs require a great deal of research, but I must admit, on many occasions, I just sit with a glass of wine and a pencil, start to doodle, and voila, without really much thought, out comes something new.

My blue trees are a case in point. The first one appeared years and years ago. Since then, the ‘collection’ grew whenever I felt the need to ‘get off script’…. Hey, when you make a blue tree, you don’t need to worry about the practical stuff … no holds barred.

So today I will show you a bunch of them, most of which are not on my website, and hope you enjoy!

BLUE ASH  2002  22x41

Blue Ash 2002 22×41″ Wall hanging
This was part of a touring exhibition inspired by rare and endangered trees of Ontario. There were 17 in the collection… and this one was stolen at one of the venues. I made another one to replace it…. but sadly, the first was never recovered.

BLUE TREE 2000 28X30

BLUE TREE 2000 28X30 Wall hanging
This may be my first blue tree, made when I was living in Quebec City, and it’s still there, somewhere….

LITTLE BLUE 3 2010 8X8

LITTLE BLUE #3 2010 8X8″
A blue tree just belongs in the snow at night.

FERTILE GROUND 2 2011 6X6

FERTILE GROUND #2 2011 6X6″
One of the first from a very long Fertile Ground series. I can still remember my excitement at this new direction in my work!

JAP MAPLE 17 2002 13X13

JAPANESE MAPLE #17 2002 13X13″ Wall hanging
From a grouping of ten, all the same size, but all different colours.

BLUE GROVE 2009 24X12

BLUE GROVE 2009 24X12″
Another night sky.

BLUE ROOTS 2009 30X10

BLUE ROOTS 2009 30X10″
An early version from my Fertile Ground series.

COURAGE 2010 24X24

COURAGE 2010 24X24″
The courage to be blue.

What are they about? What can they mean? Do we really need to know? One of the perks of being an artist is the freedom to create your own world. Mine has blue trees in it. What colour are yours?

LITTLE BLUE 2010 12X12

LITTLE BLUE 2010 12X12″
Oh little blue tree! Doesn’t need a thing more to be happy.

 

 

Go out and name your world

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Last Monday evening I presented a slide lecture for the Hamilton Naturalists’ Club at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington. The title was “Roots and Rocks: From Darkness to Light”. It was a talk that meandered through various themes I’ve been working on for the past few years – trees, rock, soil, roots and what happens beneath the surface. Sure, Roots and Rocks, obvious title! But why the qualifier, From Darkness to Light?

HARMONY 2014 36X30 s

Harmony 2014 36×30″

A while back I found an intriguing video of my hero, Canadian author Margaret Atwood, being interviewed by Lorna Dueck, in an episode of Context called “God’s Gardeners”.  She was accompanied by Leah and Markku Kostamo who head the Canadian branch of an international environmental organization called A Rocha. It was classic Atwood, filled with her wry wit and plenty to sink one’s teeth into. (I also loved how she nimbly fielded a barrage of cringeworthy questions – I digress, ahem) But the most significant question came at the end. What can each of us do, as individuals, to help make the world a better place?

Markku offered three simple suggestions:
1.   Know where your food comes from
2.   Know where your garbage goes to
3.   Go out and name your world

The first two points, although harder to put in practice than they sound, are no-brainers, elegantly tying together many issues of rampant consumerism that is eating up our beautiful Earth. But it’s the third point that hit home with me, and I am going to tell you why.

Go out and name your world. As a horticulturalist and science-a-holic, I love learning the names of the wild things I come across. A snazzy new plant? What can it be? I get a good look, grab a leaf, and head home in a hurry to look it up online or in one of my books. Once it’s got a name, I can’t help but ponder: What is its life story? Where else does it grow and where does it come from? What bugs does it host, what animal does it feed? What do its seeds and flowers look like? Does it have medicinal properties?  It all begins with naming. And I would never have met this plant had I not first ‘gone out’ and explored my surroundings. I would never have had the opportunity to love it.

Lorraine and rare Columbo plant

Me and the rare Columbo plant enjoying a staring contest at Cartwright Sanctuary near Dundas, ON.

However, many things in our natural world are not so easy to name. They can be too small to see. They can be hidden deep inside the bark of a tree or up in the branches beyond reach. They can be nocturnal or secretive or shy and complicated. And they can be buried and tangled deep in the soil.

N EW LIFE 2007 12X12 copy 2

New Life 2007 12×12″

Enter our biologists:  dedicated individuals who devote the full force of their knowledge, time and resources to uncharted territory. Where would we be without these scientists, naming and knowing more and more of the wonders of our universe?

But herein lies a problem. Scientists work hard… but their skill set may not always include effective communication beyond what is necessary to spread the word amongst other scientists. And really, we can’t expect them to do it all, can we? In comes Opportunity! With a science background, love of nature, and passion for imagery, could I become a visual spokesperson though which a scientist can share discoveries? Yes. This is what I want to do.

This is why I called my lecture Roots and Rocks: From Darkness to Light.  To me, art making is an all-encompassing and spiritually fulfilling quest. I hope to leave the world a better place: to bring to light these hidden worlds in such a way that others can see, feel and marvel as I do.

Because we can’t love something until it has a name.

SHADOW 2 2008 24X18

“Even the darkness is not dark to You.
The night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to You.”
Psalm 139:12

 

White Pines with Cat

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

The light hearted couple who requested this commission already had three of my pieces and several of my husbands’. They’d just bought a property in cottage country, Ontario, and wanted a wall piece in their large dining room, where they entertain a lot. They had spent a lifetime canoeing and camping extensively in all parts of Ontario, so it was clear from the outset that the subject matter would be White Pines of Georgian Bay. However as animal lovers and devoted cat owners, they had another request: they would like birds, and a cat, somewhere in the picture.

WHITE PINES WITH CAT 2014S

White Pines with Cat 2014 24×48″
(can you spot the cat?)

I love animals as much as I love a challenge, and this was not the first time I’d been asked to incorporate wild creatures. For one large commission I made in 2008, the client wished for all the genera of creation: plants, fungi, bugs, birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. The toughest part was the mammals…. how to make it all work without looking like a Disney production? Plus the space was filling up! The solution?  To curl a sleeping chipmunk into a crevice underground. Everyone was happy:

7 Days of Creation 2008 sm jpeg

The Seven Days of Creation 2008 – Lots of animals here!

7 Days serpent and ants

Fish, ants, snake….

CHIPMUNK - 7 DAYS

…. and chipmunk, in hibernation

Taking a cue from that experience, I embraced my cat lovin’ side, and settled a sleeping feline at the foot of a White Pine in the piece:

The Cat

This cat is not worried about the weather.

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