My Own Private Artist Residency

A new painting about…guess what?

Today you’ll find me in glamourous Montreal…wearing rubber gloves and scouring a toilet as part of my artist residency! But before you all rush out to sign up for this alluring experience, perhaps I should explain how this happened.
I’ve been toying with the notion of doing an artist residency for a while, checking out glamourous villas in Spain or collaborative spaces in suburban Tokyo. But an artist friend warned me, “You’re really at their mercy, you get a call and you have to come out right away…it’s difficult to plan ahead.” While I’m sure that’s not true of all residencies, it is a factor for me. I have an ailing mother, so I can’t go too far for too long. Summers I like to spend at home in Vancouver, my kids are home from school and the weather is pretty damn nice, especially this summer. Fall is a busy time, as I get ready for the November Culture Crawl. And I have to admit, I love my studio, it’s perfectly set up and I have yet to find a residency that welcomes resin artists. “Bring your toxic chemicals to our lovely shared studio!” And not working in resin would mean a big change for me.
However, the idea of a residency kept nagging at me. I decided that I would arrange my own short residency; combining an art class with a city I loved. I chose Montreal, since my son already has an apartment there. He shares with two other McGill students, and I had seen the place when he moved in last September, it’s brand new and brilliantly located near downtown. I found a short art class I could take, and I was all set: museums visits, an apartment where I could paint as well, an interesting class and free accommodations. I promised my son I’d “pay” for my stay by leaving a big painting in the living room. What’s not to like?
If you could have predicted the problem already, you’re a lot smarter than I am. Apparently three intelligent young men, who can get admitted into a top university, are not smart enough to clean out the fridge before they leave for the summer. I saw mystery meat at university, but yesterday I got to see mystery vegetables…I have no idea what they were. And I’m pretty sure the apartment has not been cleaned since I saw it a year ago. So I’ve spent the first part of my residency getting the apartment into a state of minimum human habitability. I’m painting as well, but if my work is influenced by my surroundings, there’s going to be some sort of Hoarders masterpiece ahead.
Luckily for me, the hockey bag doesn’t reek.

On the other hand, it is kind of satisfying to fix up a place like some HGTV show. If all goes well, I’ll post some before and after photos. And being all alone and in a new place is already inspiring some new ideas. I’ve been sketching Montreal buildings and my painting on canvas is very flat and smooth. And being able to make art at any time of the day is quite exciting. Despite the housework, I think my private artist residency is going to be great! 

This Is Your Brain on Studio

I wonder if our studios look like our brains? It’s something that I’ve been thinking about ever since I visited the studio of Siobhan Humston’s studio in Harrison Hot Springs, a tiny vacation town in southern British Columbia.
When faced with eviction from her beloved Vancouver live/work space, Siobhan began an odyssey of couch-surfing and artist residencies that ended up in this one year artist residency at the Ranger Station Art Gallery in Harrison. The Ranger Station is a two story building with a community art gallery downstairs and a rambling apartment upstairs. In return for being the artist in residence and manning the gallery on weekends, Siobhan has the entire second floor to fashion to her own needs.

As someone who has shared her home for over 20 years with one husband, two kids, three cats, and various small mammals and fish, I found it fascinating to see the home of an artist who lives with only one peaceful cat. The freedom to set up your home to suit your own interests is very appealing.  

Naturally, there’s a normal bedroom and kitchen/dining area, but the rest of the place is set up to suit her many creative pursuits. It’s like a dream come true for anyone who has ever had to clean up her art project so dinner can be served! She has a meditation corner that looks out onto beautiful Harrison Lake. She has her musical instruments set up in another corner, a merry mix of drums, mandolins, violins, and the like. There is book-filled nook for relaxing.  

She has a small back room with her sewing machine and fabric stash, where she is crafting pillows, clothing and accessories. 

She has a back room filled with power tools where she builds panels and sculptures. It’s filled with supplies for her next sculpture project.

She has a big painting studio with multiple works on tables and pinned on walls.

There is a tiny corner for small coloured pencil works, where I longed to sit at the little desk and doodle.
A driving force behind Siobhan’s work is recycling. Many of her fabrics are donated or salvaged, and even some of the papers she paints on were saved from dumpsters. Her current sculpture project is based on one year’s worth of her waste, things that could not be recycled or composted. She has been collecting raw materials with a childlike freedom, sometimes with a vision and sometimes for unknown future possibilities. You can check out her lovely work here.
I really enjoyed my visit to Siobhan’s studio. It stirred my creative imagination to have a peek into her creative process through her studio. I drove up to Harrison with fellow artists, Rachael Asheand Valerie Arnzten. We were all so inspired by the trip that each one of us blogged about it. For different perspectives, I’ve linked to their posts as well.

Now, look around at your studio. What’s it saying about you?


“Our house, is a very, very, very fine house; with two cats in the yard…

“Oh! I think this painting would look great in our living room!” says the wife enthusiastically, hurrying over to see one of my paintings close-up.
“Hmmm,” replies the husband, noncommittally. He looks around furtively for something he can understand, like a landscape or a map coloured in earth tones. Nothing like that exists in this studio.
This couple is fictional, but similar things have happened during open studios. My paintings get a reaction, not everyone loves them, but those do…well, they make my day. 
I love open studios because they give me the chance to hear reactions to my work and talk to people about art in general. The Culture Crawl is the biggest show for me, but usually it’s so busy I hardly get a chance to chat with people in any depth. For the past year I’ve been doing occasional open studios with some of the other artists in my building, organized by the calm and competent Laura McKibbon of Cul de Sac Design. These open studios are lot more laid back, since fewer people come. I can do some work in the studio, not painting since I’d need to concentrate and get messy, but something neat or organizational. We just finished one event, and the next one will be in early June.
One curious thing I’ve noticed is that sometimes people come in and look carefully at all the art, then talk to me about it. They tell me how much they like my work, and how much they would like to own a painting, but they can’t afford it right now. There is a look in their eyes, a dreamy look, like they are imagining how that future place will look. Perhaps it’s their current home, but fixed up or perhaps it’s a dream home. Surprisingly people become quite confessional, telling me what major crises and hardships are going on in their lives, but that change is coming.  And after that they want to come back and get a painting.
Is there something about art that inspires dreams? Or is it that paintings are part of an ideal? A vow that to shed the hand-me-down couch, get rid of the junk, and achieve the dream:  a beautiful home filled with lovingly-selected objects that inspire. If paintings can inspire hope, they’ve achieved something very grand.
P.S. Well, you don’t have to dream about owning a painting, you can still enter the contest to win a mini-masterpiece, so far the odds are pretty darn good. The contest will wrap up at the end of April, and there will be a new one in May.

How to Crawl

The Eastside Culture Crawl has been a huge part of my life for the last seven years, with my studio welcoming hundreds of visitors in that time.

My neat studio, a rare occurrence

However there are still a lot of people who are Crawl virgins, or who would like advice on getting more out of their Crawl experience, so here’s some advice. Of course, you may wonder how someone who sits in her studio during the Crawl can even give advice on how to tour…so I have also gotten help from an expert. Liz Malinka has been doing the Crawl for over ten years now, she is both an art lover and an art collector. In fact, she and her husband, Frank, both love the Crawl so much that they became financial supporters of the event.

I would say that there are many ways to do the Crawl, but here are the two ends of the scale:


Liz, who is divinely organized, recommends doing your homework. She goes through the entire Crawl website to check out the artist’s images, then notes the artists whose work looks intriguing to her and writes down the names and exact addresses of the ones she wants to visit. You’d be surprised how many people come in searching for an artist they saw on the website or mentioned in the newspaper, but they don’t know exactly who or where that artist is. With over 300 artists, it’s difficult to figure out who that might be.You may be interested in one particular area, like furniture makers, and the Crawl website allows you to search that. The Crawl website also lets you search by building or by artists.

You can plan logistically if there are a number of places you want to visit, starting at one end of the Crawl territory and moving to the other. You may want to get your hands on a Crawl brochure, with its handy map, which should be available at any artist’s studio you visit. But with 65 different locations, you may want to prioritize the places you want to visit, choosing the area with the biggest cluster. I’m not sure if anyone has ever visited all the artists during a Crawl, but it would definitely take the whole weekend to do more than a studio fly-by. That said, many people do the Crawl over two or three days, because too many studios in too little time can fry your brain.


The other end of the exploration scale is one method I’ve seen many times in my own studio.  Many visitors merely choose a place, like a large building or a little neighbourhood with a few studios and start exploring. They meander through every studio and stop to admire and chat with the artists. They delight in the work or the atmosphere, and have an easy-going attitude.  It’s the Crawl as an experience, and you can explore this way for as much or as little time as you have. I’ve actually had visitors who started on the Crawl about an hour before it ended, but they get an hour of Culture Crawl in anyway. When you explore organically, I think you’re more likely to find things that surprise and possibly educate you in some way.

And unfortunately for the organized Crawlers, many artists are so disorganized that they won’t appear on the website or map listing, they simply pop up and wait to be discovered by accident. The Crawl is full of lovely surprises.

General tips for the Crawl

Liz has some specific advice on what to wear to the Crawl: “Dress for the event, no high heels since you’ll be climbing a lot of stairs and covering a lot of ground. I find that scarves are a must (since 1000 Parker can be cold) and they are a quick removal item when you do warm up!”  My own observation is that there are a lot of stylish people who do the Crawl, and I enjoy the fashion show through my studio.  People who like art, like aesthetics of all kinds.

Parking can also be an issue at busy times, so getting there early helps. Most areas of the Crawl are either industrial or residential, and neither are loaded with parking. Although I don’t know any secret parking spots, I would caution you to carefully read all the signs. My former studio was across from a huge No Parking sign on a fence which was ignored every year, since people assumed they were closed on weekends. When the trucks arrived at the lot, they had no choice but to call the tow truck. Lots of people do bike to the Crawl, and if you buy something most artists will hold it for you to pick up later. On sunny days the streets around the Crawl are packed with pedestrians, like a stylish country village.

What about those crowds? Here’s the scoop on the different times to Crawl. The Crawl is open from 5 to 10pm on Friday, and Saturday and Sunday from 11 to 6.  Friday nights have a party atmosphere, in my building the artists are more dressed up and serve food, not dinner of course, but nibbles. I think most studios have food on Friday.  Serious art buyers, like Liz, will be out on Friday in order to see the work first and get first dibs. More families come out on Saturday and Sunday, after soccer or music lessons, and the Crawl is a great family experience. Kids love to explore, and artists are usually pleased to talk to budding artistes. For younger kids, I would recommend keeping it short since it can be tiring to trudge through large warehouse spaces or through rain-soaked neighbourhoods. You can always do more the next year. Teenagers who love art can probably out-Crawl their parents.  
If you don’t like crowds, I would recommend checking out some smaller buildings or individual studios. If it rains hard, most people prefer to stay dry by staying inside and exploring bigger buildings like 1000 Parker or The Mergatroid (my building), so they can be crowded. If it snows, I can guarantee there will be no crowd at all!  One more insiders tip, I’ve often found that late Sunday afternoon is the slowest time on the Crawl, so if you go between 3:00 and 6:00pm on Sunday, you may have studios all to yourself.

Michelle Sirois-Silver in her studio

Here’s some lovely advice from Liz, “Lastly, have fun, talk to the artists! It will add to the whole experience if you are able to connect with them and get to know a little bit about them. Who knows, perhaps friendships will develop, it’s happened to me many times! “

Very true! Enjoy the Crawl and stay tuned for the next blog topic, How to buy art at the Crawl.

Michelle Sirois-Silver’s studio

An organized rainbow!

When I was a child, I used to go to the home of a graphic designer who had her studio in the basement. I loved to wander downstairs and look at her papers, her pristine white drawing table and best of all her markers, perfectly lined up in the full rainbow of colours. Seeing ALL the colours in perfect order gives me an enormous thrill to this day. And that is why I love going into the studio of textile artist, Michelle Sirois-Silver.

These fabric stacks are my favourite things in her studio,
 the textile equivalent of a paintbox

I first met Michelle when she moved into the shared studio across the hall from my studio, and then followed her into her studio in the basement of her home, and then I helped her link up with her current studio. I’ve been wanting to take photographs of Michelle’s studio ever since I saw her first studio, and now with the Culture Crawl on the horizon, I can feature this lovely spot and anyone can visit it as well.

So here are some photos of Michelle’s studio, as well as her answers to my little studio Q & A.

Michelle, hard at work.

What is your favourite part of the studio?
My favorite part of the studio is where ever I am at the moment I am creating something. 
The old and the new.

Can you tell me about your studio routine?
I’m in the studio everyday 10-6pm.  I like to begin the day by organizing and putting away any new items and materials that I have brought with me that morning.  I set up my computer, cup of coffee in hand and begin work.  Generally, I reserve activities like magazine and grant writing, marketing, and updating my website for home.  I may pick up my rug hooking where I left off the following day, do some fabric dyeing, or create samples for a new work.  I take photographs of my work in different stages and I’ll use these images as a record of the process or for promotional purposes.  While I’m working I listen to CBC radio, music or audio books.  I try to schedule studio visits for the afternoon.  The day concludes with about fifteen minutes of clean up which includes a daily vacuum to keep the dust and fabric pieces under control.  

A little sampler which I found quite beautiful.

What is one thing that really inspires your creativity?

There are three things that inspire my creativity:  I love narrative and the art of story telling and I try to bring this sensibility to my practice.   Visually I’m drawn to images that inspire a sense of intimacy.  When I’m looking at something I shut out everything else around it and view that one thing in utter isolation.  When I do this the image alters its form and it becomes a range of colour, a dynamic value contrast, or a pattern.  Its new potential is inspiring. And talking with fellow artists about their work, inspirations, and processes.    

Here is textile piece of Michelle’s that I own and love. You can see more of her work at:
And if you would like to visit Michelle’s gorgeous studio in person, come and visit her on the Eastside Culture Crawl on November 18, 19 and 20, 2011.

This post is the kick off to a series of posts I will be writing on the Crawl, as we head up to the big event.

The Secret Garden

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Last night I went to dinner with two girlfriends at a Chinese restaurant in East Van. Afterwards, since it was still sunny and nice out, we went for a walk around the neighbourhood. The neighbourhood we were in is a slightly sketchy combination of businesses and down-at-the-heels houses, but fine in the daytime. We wandered past the security-bar clad windows and cracking pavement when our attention was drawn by a garden in progress.

The yard of former mechanic shop was being transformed with new rich soil and a variety of tropical plants. A water feature was being dug in, and once the plants fill out and blossom, the garden will be very beautiful. We peeked inside the open garage door to see who was performing this botanical miracle and saw a man talking on his cell. I recognized him immediately as a well-known Vancouver artist. Inside the shop were canvases pinned to wall and a variety of intriguing paintings in various stages of completion. Obviously the garden reno required a lot of hard physical labour, and I wondered what was motivating the artist. A desire to create a tropical paradise to transport him or inspire his art? A hope to make the neighbourhood more beautiful?

One of the plants in the new garden is appropriately called  Black Magic

Although I am notorious for envisioning artist studios in every empty building I see (Old schools! Deserted warehouses! Garden sheds!) I was especially happy to see this conversion of garage to studio. This plain brick building, transformed into a place of creativity and energy was inspiring. Like the budding garden outside, an artist plants the seeds of his imagination and they can transform the neighbourhood.
Obviously you don’t have to be an artist to plant a lovely garden, repaint a front door or just pick up some garbage off the street. Everything we do to make public spaces more beautiful and  interesting can be appreciated by all.

Lisa Ochowycz’s studio

I am fascinated by other people’s studios.  I love poking around and seeing how artists organize things and how the studio reflects the work.  So as part of an occasional series in my blog, I would like to introduce artist’s studios that I find interesting.

Lisa Ochowycz is an abstract painter that I met when she was sitting outside my studio one early summer morning, waiting to sign a lease for a new studio space in my building.  She looked so friendly and we hit it off right away, and now that I have moved upstairs my studio is right across the hall from her.  I must admit, I was pretty surprised when I first saw her studio.  Her paintings are complete abstractions, with large areas of floating colour, drippy shapes, and soft transitions of form.  But her studio is divinely organized, and as a naturally messy person I am very impressed.  Anyway, take a look for yourself.  Here is Lisa’s studio, and her poetic answers to my nosy questions.

What is your favourite part of the studio?

Firstly, I love the building I am in and the variety of artists I am surrounded by.  As for the studio itself, it’s wonderful to have a place that really feels like my own; being tucked away up in the mezzanine, with lots of light, my painting wall, a small selection of teas, and a little tapenade and fresh bread….it all adds up to providing a great deal of artists legroom.  I feel so fortunate to have this space.

Can you tell me about your studio routine?

As an abstract expressionist it’s become apparent that each element of my day is related to my time in the studio. Friendships, family, biking to my studio, chai at Granville Island, they’re all precursors that set the stage for what can happen when I’m in front of a blank panel.  Once I’ve arrived at my studio I prefer to start my time with writing a bit in my journal it’s an effortless way to achieve a general focus and clarity.  By the time the first brush strokes are made I’m clear and feel in tune and I don’t feel overshadowed by whatever stresses may have accumulated during the day.

What is one thing that really inspires your creativity?
Acquiring a depth of understanding in life is the greatest muse I’ve come across, and few things promote it more than music.

To see more of Lisa’s work, please check out her website.