Old friend

Friendship (not counting family) and the term has woven its way in and out of my thoughts the last few years. Thinking about old and not so old friendships that have ended, I’ve accepted and made peace with. The nostalgia for old friendships I continue – distantly – because we are different or geographically apart but still wish each other well. And then there are tentative new friendships being made in the middle of midlife (and again somewhat distant because: tentative and midlife). And then of course, if we are of a certain age: the digital form of friendships that manifest through that addiction to social media (a mixed bag of meaning I won’t even try to dissect here).

Fragments of botanicals collected for my January 2023 24 days of drawing.

All of the above are describing friendships of the human kind and finally after all these years, I have learned there is no perfect human friendship for me. I am no perfect friend.

When we recognize something in ourselves, we can choose to be curious about it, question it and either change or continue as before. I think I am changing my perspective on my human friendships. It is a work in progress.

For this month’s work, I created a pigment boiled from lilac leaves and branches and included traditional drawing media.
We have Burr oak in the neighbourhood so experimenting with oak gall.
And then a new social media friend inspired me to dye some wool with some alum spiked lilac pigment.

Work in progress. It was surprising to me the other day that I used the term old friend not to describe a human. Nor a beloved pet or plant. I used it to describe my relationship with art making. And it surprised me a bit and took me aback.

I have not been a perfect friend to my art practice either. And YET, it has been the most loyal companion all these years. I have slagged it/minimized it/and tried to turn my back on it. And YET, there it is: ready to bring me equanimity.

So, I’ve been continuing to visit it. Sometimes for only a minute, sometimes as long as 20 or 30 minutes a day, for 24 days out of the month. This year, my year will be framed in a circle. I aim to try to use a botanical pigment each month and draw from the natural world (which is also an old friend and one I visit less frequently).

I’m pleased with this first 24 days of drawing. It is nostalgic (the lilac originates from my parents’ property and those lilacs originated from my mom’s grandfather). It is familiar (I’ve had an interest in drawing plants on and off for over 30 years). It is new (experiments with different drawing media and how they interact with each other).

24 days of drawing: January 1-24, 2023. 15.3cm diameter. Mixed media. B. Wanhill

My old friend art making: thank you for sticking with me.

Winter is for Stories*

I do love the smell of ink and was planning on some more printmaking over the holidays. Thanks to the extreme cold weather (-32ºC here in Calgary) and my determination to get some fresh air, another smell caught my attention. The smell of pure lanolin took me on a completely different tinkering session.

Knitting sample of hand spun yarn, resting on hand card. B. Wanhill. December 2021. iPhone X.

I purchased this lanolin from a Canadian shop a couple of years ago and I had forgotten about its magical properties to heal cut hands. Smearing it across cheeks, lips (and up one’s nose!) is a great way to fend off wind chill and frostbite. Some people think it smells like sheep barn and this (along with donning a beautiful sweater my mom knit in the ’60s) was exactly the sensory experience I needed to help me reconnect with family memories and return to a session in fibre exploration.

In this video Etienna Moostoos-Lafferty shares with us that winter is traditionally a time for First Nations people to tell stories. It was a time “to sit down and listen” as there was not as much work to do compared to the busier seasons of “trapping, hunting, harvesting, building and sewing.”

As I transform the fibre given to me from my mom – fibre that belonged to sheep she and my dad raised, fibre that was given to them by family friends, I am grateful for time to slow down, sit and listen. Sometimes the stories I hear are from memories I play back in my mind. Recently, I am contemplating stories I’ve heard while learning about Canada’s vast history of Indigenous cultures. And I am building a new story collection as I connect during this pandemic via phone with my family a province away or chat with my husband across the room; connect with people I don’t even know through social media or soon, back to the busy, chaotic, joyful personal story connections I make with my students.

For me, making things helps me make sense of a world I often don’t understand and gives meaning to who I am and where I come from. The stories I hear and think about are embedded into the items I make. Lately, I’ve been pleased that the items I make are filled with more peace and contentment.

Happy New Year and may the stories you hear and make this winter be peaceful and happy.

* Etienna Moostoos-Lafferty is an Indigenous education coach, educator and has been sharing her engaging resources with others. Her work has benefitted my students and myself in the elementary art room. You can find her on Twitter: @EtiennaLafferty

Who for what?

In the new year of 2014, I started this blog to document my practice as a visual artist outside my profession as an elementary art teacher. The spur came from a professional development session advocating building a “positive digital footprint.” My colleagues opened up Twitter accounts and a couple started WordPress blogs. I abandoned a personal gardening blog to begin what I vaguely deduced would be my foray into showcasing my skills in photography, drawing and printmaking.

On the brink of 7 years later, I have changed, the world has changed and currently the nature of my paid profession has changed. It has been almost two years of self reflection flecked with a high degree of distraction and melancholy. Focus on the positive has been spare.

Yet, one thing appears to have kept me from falling into complete creative and mental apathy: working with wool in the capacity of spinning.

Creating yarn forces me to work in the abstract. Spinning focusses my mind: pay attention to tension, listen to the sound and watch the movement of the spindle or treadle. See the formation of something new from raw or reused materials. I am realizing the potential of how colour and texture can play together. Play. Something absent from my years of haphazard and dutiful drawing and printmaking work. Something absent from my natural instinct towards anxious thinking.

As I continue in this space, I will make room for this medium. I feel like it may help me more fully answer the question of “Who for what?”

Knitting sample of hand spun yarn, resting on hand card, iPhone 6S.