Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Year in Review

Girl Reading (close up) 
36" x 36" 
Acrylic on Canvas 

I've been trying to compose this post in my head for a couple weeks. 2012 was one of those years that just swung from high highs to low lows. It ended on a redeemed note.

I started this year very fired up about my January 2013 show at the Airdrie Public Library, thinking thoughts of "FOR ONCE I will nail being prepared!" as I type that sentence, I'm having a hard time wiping a smile off my face. For those of you holding your breath - no, didn't go as planned. God had bigger things in mind I guess.

My January to April started well for painting. Had a few on the go, seemed to be making progress, seemed realistic. Then May hit and I started to drown with all the other aspects of life. Work and kids... everything was way too busy. I looked forward to some off time in the beginning of the summer where I could paint before our family went overseas to teach at an English camp.

That time to paint never really happened. I hit a massive wall in the progress of my pieces (I have a bit of a temper, so when I get painter's block I tend to turn the offending pieces to the wall and sulk a little, these ones were hidden/banished in the basement for a time) and reached a point of exhaustion from everything else that didn't leave much left creatively.

Then we left for our trip. To say that it was an amazing time for our family is an understatement. we spent a few weeks in Hungary, mostly in small towns meeting our English teaching team and working the camp itself. Our local host family during the camp was perfect for us. The spirit and generosity of all our Hungarian friends made our time there exceedingly special. We topped off our trip with a few days in Budapest. I have one word for you - GO. Just go. The culture and food etc, etc, etc.... just awesome.

I posted a few months ago about our return - we started the second half of 2012 quite roughly. We got home to find out that our most amazing dog, Esther had died suddenly. That was tough to take. I jumped into the busiest part of my work year as well. To deal with the stress and painter's block I started to work in earnest on Lino cutting. So fun and desperately needed.

Just when I thought the stress was going down, I was in two separate minor car accidents (10 days apart) and my back got messed up enough that I couldn't sit longer than 20 minutes. I was starting to really fear this show. Somewhere in this though, a creative something showed up. I got very inspired. I couldn't sit, so I changed tactics (had to paint only standing which for me means go big or go home).

I worked on an unrelated painting and experimented a bit. It unlocked the painter's block. My back started to improve and I had some time to rejuvenate. More inspiration came, some for painting and a lot for my faith. I've had good conversations with some creative types around me and spent a large portion of November and December painting. Some nice big pieces.

I'm getting stuff finished up for the show next week and I'm really excited. For my local readers, I hope you will come check it out. There won't be any reception or opening night - my friend Veronica and I will be hanging it at the library next week. Many items have never been shown in public, so it should be interesting! If you do come see it, let me know what you thought.

Closing out 2012 with some lists (because I am a list nerd).

People who I want to thank for getting us through this year:

My family (local and extended - you all rock)
My work family (you bring out much more in me than I even knew was there)
My Bible study group (I laugh typing that because you are the craziest bunch of cats EVER)
My creative buddies (you know what a nerd I am for talking shop - thanks for indulging this)
Our Hungarian team and friends (I'm still processing this trip but we love you guys)
Everyone who put up with me whining about my back (and to those that helped fixed it)

Some great books that I managed to read (or reread):

Maus, Maus II and Metamaus (EeeeeeEeeeee!) by Art Speigleman
Start with Why by Simon Sinek
Working the Angles by Eugene Peterson
Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton
Just My Type by Simon Garfield
Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas

Some songs that I kept hitting repeat on:

I want the world to stop by Belle and Sebastian
No Light, No Light by Florence and the Machine
The Book of Right On by Joanna Newsom
Nothing But Time by Metric
I Will Wait by Mumford and Sons
Take a Walk by Passion Pit
A.P.O.L.O.G.Y. by Tom Vek
Silver and Gold (most of it) by Sufjan Stevens (actually this Christmas set is worth it's own post)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Longterm Goal - the Printing Press

I have been interested in linocutting, printing, book making and typeface for a very long time.

When I was in college, a class on medieval art really piqued my interest in illumination (to the point of that the other day I was watching Ultimate Fighter with my husband and actually squealed when I noticed one of the guys had a Chi-Rho tattoo on his shoulder. Kinda sad.) I think its that language and symbolism thing that gets me. (speaking of which, the parts of "In the Name of The Rose" where Umberto Eco talks about manuscript copying was, in some ways, more interesting than the storyline to me)

Books bring ideas forward through history. Printing distributes ideas to more people in far flung places. That's the big picture aspect. Different from painting where the original is unique and influential in a very localized way. (let's all agree to ignore our digital surroundings for now, it's more fun) linocuts and engravings make art accessible, almost disposable - takes the pressure off.

Then you get into the stuff that gets me up in the morning. Pressing blades into lines, smoothing black ink onto glass. Handling paper so as to not make a smudge. Anticipation on what the end result will look like. If I close my eyes I can smell it, hear it, feel it.

Some years ago, some dear friends were moving. They entrusted me with a printing press that they were planning to revive. I know nothing about these kinds of machines (this one in particular being a Kelsey Excelsior 6 x 10). I had done printmaking in high school using a big table press, but nothing like this with rubber rollers, mounting chase and multiple moving parts.

We kept it out of the elements and dutifully moved it with us, finding it a new basement hiding spot. It would haunt me though, knowing its potential.

So. Slowly I've been building up my courage to outfit this thing properly. I'm super intimidated by it. It needs new rollers and I don't have any type to set - but the machine itself is in great condition. I'm reading up on how all this works. I know somehow I will be able to mount linocuts in there, so I'm practicing my linocutting. Working up my nerve to email some places that can give me advice on how to get this cool little machine up and running.

Still painting and prepping for the show in January, but this I can chat about now.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


I was shocked when I looked at my blog and realized how long it's been since I last posted.

I've been missing the process of blogging lately. I've realized one of the things that have held me back too: I hate sitting at a desk to post, I much prefer my phone or iPad. Lucky me - they have apps for that! (This post is an experiment from my phone.)

This painting I started at the beginning of summer (this isn't the only thing I've had on the go lately), had a massive family trip then had a very difficult time finishing. In fact, the piece was finished only a few hours ago.

So, what happened?

I was asked about taking this commission from a friend who just had to say goodbye to this sweet dog. I had previously done a piece on her cat as well.

We worked through a collection of photos and picked this shot because of the rich colours, textures and sculptural lines. I was in love. The painting started strong.

In the meantime, my family and I took an amazing adventure across the globe to teach at an English camp (another long post, hopefully) We were all set to resume the routine when we got home. For me, that included this painting.

On the night we returned home, we learned that while we were gone, our own beloved dog, Esther, had passed away suddenly at her original owner's house. This was devastating. Jet lag made it worse.

This painting sat there. Those sensitive eyes, the silly toy, the graceful lines of paws and folded back ears all made me so sad. So I left it. Then I got busy, work consumed me, life moved forward.

The other day I got a precious day with sunshine and quiet. No commitments and a desire to paint. I saw this on my palette and knew it was time. I won't pretend I wasn't sad. But I was ready. I think it was cathartic. I just soaked up all the canine attributes and put them down.

We've tried to explain to our kids why it hurts so bad to lose our dog. The more you love, the more it hurts. We've posed the question "is it better to not have loved and stay protected or is this pain worth it because of the wonderful time we had together?"

I'm glad they agreed (even in their most painful days) that it was worth the sadness. I hope this painting is good for my friend's healing too.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Sketchbook Project - Fill me with stories

The Sketchbook Project 2012
© Michelle Wiebe
Pen on Paper and Cardboard
7" x 10" 

I have been plugging away at this little project since November. It started smoothly and after a long stall, resumed quite quickly. I'm actually feeling like this is "too close for comfort" to post on the blog, but I will anyways. Thank you to the Brooklyn Art Library for hosting such a cool project!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Figuring out my motivations.

Poor quality close up of a work in progress. 

Why am I here? Why do I paint? Why do I blog about it? Why would I think you would care? Why do I have my day job? Why wouldn't I pick one over the other? 

I've been pulling those questions apart lately. I've been reacting against or agreeing with all sorts of things that touch on those questions and I think I'm getting a glimmer of some of the answers. 

I know a lot of things I don't want to be here for - money, popularity, vanity, my name going down in history, bad art, compromised integrity. Some of those things are really easy to avoid.... others battle with my ego all the time. More time than I care to admit. 

Another thing that I've become increasingly aware of in myself and in my surroundings is how easy it can be to manipulate things (and just to be clear here, to a painter, not all manipulations are bad. Paintings themselves can be manipulations). 

So where does this fit into the why questions? Simple. I could easily write something here that sounds really noble or accomplished or whatever and you might believe me. So I've been thinking about how to articulate my whys without manipulating it into something that secretly satisfies the things that I want to avoid. Surprisingly easy, and probably surprisingly hard. I'll try. 

I've read through some of my old posts from after I melted down here and a common thing emerges. You can see it in the "About Me" column. (As an aside, I hate those things. Artist Bios, Statements and the like as well, see my above commentary on manipulations.) Turns out I already knew why, but didn't have it within reach enough to explain it. I'm here to communicate things that matter. That's pretty much it. 

Define here: This world. This family. This blog. This career. That career. Stuff like that. 

Define communicate: This is where it gets interesting. Could be painting. Could be subject. Could be words. Could be actions. Could be a whole bunch of things. 

Define matters: Again, interesting. Matters to me. From my perspective, what matters to the world or should matter to the world. You have perhaps been reading this because what matters to me, matters to you. Should I exhaustively explain each painting and process to justify why it matters? No. Painting does better when some questions come up, when something in your heart is stirred and you can't quite pin point why. That's where the conversation between artist and viewer begins. Look at a piece of art, any art. Look at it again and ask "why does this matter?" Boom. Instant conversation. 

So, do paintings of mermaids matter? They did at some point. They still do on occasion. The "why they matter" has changed though. I look back over the years on this blog and I am humbled by what a shameless self promoter I've been at times. Mermaid paintings etc mattered to me back then because they made me quick easy money. Plus cartoon-ey things are fun to paint. They matter to me occasionally now because I give them to my daughters or they are for friends. Daughters and friends matter. At times quick, easy money and fun has mattered over other things. Hence that struggle for "why's" I don't like in myself. 

Okay. So could we say that "I'm here to communicate what matters" is your purpose statement? Barf. No (I got a book recently that had a chapter that talked about purpose statements for your family and it really irritated me). It is my "big picture" purpose perhaps (as much as I can understand those things, which is not very much), but purpose statements are not for people, they are for boardrooms. 

This sort of thing breaks down when we look at the mundane necessities.  Does communicating what matters work in the department of making dinner? Rarely (unless it is home made pot stickers for Birthdays or New Years - making those communicates something that really matters - having enough time set aside for my kids to make them because they take forever. Mac'n cheese, not so much) How about driving kids to school? Nope. Facebook... sadly, not much. 

Of course we could distill those things into some glorious crusade of "why it matters" but go back and read my thing above on manipulations. I do lots of stuff because society says I have to. Could make it look noble, but my main motivation for many things "because it needs to get done".

Purpose statements often include lots of actions and goal oriented words but not a lot of "whys". I'm interested in the why questions.

So lets answer them. 

Why am I here? To communicate things that matter. 

Why do I paint? To communicate things that matter. 

Why do I blog about it? To communicate things that matter. 

Why would I think you would care? I'm communicating things that I think matter. You either agree or disagree with them.  

Why do I have my day job? To communicate things that matter. 

Why wouldn't I pick one over the other? I'm communicating things that matter in two different ways to two different groups, all of which matter to me. 

So what about things you paint that seem kind of typical or repetitive or I can't figure out why that subject would matter? Well, if it is a work from a few years ago, it mattered sometimes because it looked pleasing. (there are other things that matter in those ones too, just not always so clear) If it's more recent, there is probably a subtext there that matters. If you are going along with what I'm painting or communicating about in other formats, chances are you would agree that these things matter even if you can't articulate why it matters. If you are ever curious, ask me. I might even tell you. 

Okay, so you were going on about manipulations. What does that have to do with what matters? It matters so much to me that I'm not trying to manipulate (in a bad way) with blogging or painting. So much. Painful. Perhaps trying to make right the wrong of shameless self promotion? I don't know. I've just been so hyper aware of that sort of thing lately, I need to put it out there in writing. Which is paralyzing because I can get stuck analyzing my motivations to the point of doing nothing. Not blogging. Not painting. 

Anyways. This mattered enough for me to interrupt the painting shown above to sit at the desk top to blog. (part of the reason why blogging has fallen off the radar for me. Maybe I need a keyboard for the iPad. Dunno) 

By the way (and I've hesitated to share this, again with the chance of being mistaken for shameless self promotion, I've had this lined up forever it seems) One thing that matters to me is that I'm starting new work for a solo show next year at the Airdrie Public Library (January 7th - March 4th 2013). Why does this matter? I've never buckled down enough to pursue a solo show. I want to do a good job. I want to surprise myself.  I want to spend a good chunk of my time this year preparing for this exhibit. I want to communicate what matters. 

Since I want it to have a good amount of new work, I've decided that I'm not going to post full shots of my completed pieces just so you can have a few surprises! I do want to communicate other aspects of this journey this year. 

Part of the reason I've been enjoying this part of communicating is I'm just communicating it because I want to explain things. Not to sell things (that fight with manipulations!). I don't want to sell this work before this show and I have no concrete idea of what I'm doing with it after the show. Depends on the work. Depends on where I am at personally. 

I don't have to think of that until after it is over. Hopefully there will be enough space between the act of creating it to when I have to deal with where those paintings will go afterwards that they won't influence each other too much.