It’s not that simple

Inspiration hits, I follow it through to a full-fledged idea and then, into the studio to make it a reality. If only that’s how it worked but…it’s not that simple. Alright, it sometimes happens that way but not nearly as often as I’d like.

For the past number of months I’ve been exploring fresh ideas, experimenting a bit and developing new skills. My forms are still organic and I continue to be fascinated with the sphere, but my focus is on repetition, texture and, most recently, contrast through colour and surface treatment. While I trusted my instincts that this was what I needed to be doing, I wasn’t sure if I was on the right track.

Well, the last four weeks on Gabriola Island has confirmed I’m going in the right direction. Everywhere I look I see patterns, contrast created by deep shadows and brilliant sun-kissed surfaces. Depth and volume in every glance.

When I lean back to look up at a tree my eyes stop where the branches touch the sky and I see the stark outline of leaves, crisp and flat against a canvas of blue. A part of my mind draws back and a layer green appears, like lace stretched across the sky. I pull back further and yet another layer appears, this time it’s texture made of shadows as they move in the breeze. All of this from a single glance up.

Yes, it’s a tree. Yes, the sky is blue. But…it’s not that simple.

I climb over boulders and storm driven logs to stand at the edge of the sea. With my body held perfectly still, I feel the wind and see the texture it creates on the water, solid yet transparent. Below the dimpled surface, a layer in shades of green and gold sway to an unheard rhythm. Over it all waves rush toward me and crash against the shore, adding specks of white foam to the air, the final layer. The scene is somehow simultaneously large and small. A sense of intimacy is created by the warm stone beneath my feet, exaggerated by the tremendous expanse of quiet blue overhead. But it is the contrast of rock against crisp blue that captures my interest.

The boulder pushes against the sky and becomes a representation of my physical body versus my consciousness. A defining line of light versus dark and texture versus silky smooth.

Yes, it’s a boulder. Yes, the sky is blue. But…it’s not that simple.

For me, art is about more than just recording what I see, it’s about interpreting what I feel and experience.

 

Fire

Charred cedar driftwood and beetle-kill pine sphere, ©Candace Sanderson

I wanted a part of my current sculpture project to be black. A black that wasn’t paint. A black that didn’t hide the fact the I was working with wood. A black that, from a distance, identifies form as a two dimensional silhouette. A black that was the wood and not something that sits on the surface. I wanted simplicity that also offered a sense of depth and complexity.

How do I make the idea become reality?

A year ago I would have used a black stain, paint or maybe even shoe polish in an attempt to achieve the effect. However, experience has taught me that a surface application wasn’t going to give me the depth I was striving for. Especially if I wanted to emphasize wood grain. So, it was with some hesitation that I asked myself…

What about fire?

Until this point, I’ve been reluctant to introduce fire into my process. Somewhere along the way I thought that burning was expected of an artist who works with wood. It felt obvious, which to me translated to unoriginal. As it turns out utilizing fire to create a desired effect is a natural evolution of the creative process, especially when using wood as a sculpting medium.

The process is an extremely interactive one. It goes beyond any other surface finish I’ve ever done…it’s crazy exciting!

As flames lick the surface the wood darkens, grain becomes physically more pronounced, then seems to disappear completely under a smooth layer of carbon. A hiss of steam fills the air as water cuts through fire, halting the process. The surface instantly becomes an iridescent black that rapidly changes to matte black as it begins to dry. When I scrub through the freshly scarred layer and wash away the char I uncover something new, revealing itself in a ruby-toned black, glossy and reflective. Finally, dried for a second time, I discover the wood grain has become exaggerated, tactile. Rich sepia tones lie next to luminescent black raised surfaces.

From a distance my eyes read the form as a black silhouette. Yet, as I get closer the texture becomes more pronounced and raised beneath my fingers. The range of colour and tone create a finish that goes beyond the surface of the form.  Success!

Charred cedar driftwood, beetle-kill pine sphere and rough-cut red cedar, ©Candace Sanderson

So far it’s been way more fun than I anticipated. While others may enjoy the flames, but the sculptor in me loves scrubbing off the layer of carbon. Clouds of charred wood blow away in the wind and wood grain reappears with a promise of beauty beneath the destruction.

 

Spring Cleaning

I just finished three weeks out of the studio. Vacation is great, but man am I ever happy to be back on the tools. Actually I was ready to return to the studio about a week into the trip.  I suspect if you were to ask, my husband could probably tell you the exact day based on my level of agitation. But hey, when you’re in the middle of vacation, you’re in the middle of vacation. The studio is miles and miles away and that’s the whole point! Do something different! Have an experience! Refill that well of inspiration!

Turns out the ‘forced’ time away from my usual, and much loved, daily routine was incredibly valuable.

I have, of late, been inordinately focused on the finished form.  To the point where I found myself frustrated and even a little resentful of the time it takes to reach the completed sculpture.  Something was definitely a little off and I knew that I had lost touch with the heart of why I make art, but turns out I had also forgotten what it is that inspires me most…nature.  Nature and it’s oh-so-valuable lesson of patience and perseverance being their own reward. Spring, in particular, gave me its own kind of high-definition, slap in the face reminder that nature doesn’t have a completed, final image to show us, it is made up of a series of events. Something I got to experience threefold on this trip.

When I left northern Alberta for the coast spring was just on the cusp of exploding, you could smell green in the air.  My arrival on Gabriola was to a season in full flush, leaning closer to summer than it was to winter. A drive across the mountain passes brought me once again to the richness of spring in all it’s splendour. Filling the air with it’s smells along the Bow and Elbow river in Calgary. I wasn’t alone in the experience. Keen to see the end of winter, a multitude of people emerged from their homes like tulips and daffodils dotting the cityscape.

This was the lesson, the reminder offered to me by nature…creation isn’t about a single end result. It’s about the singularity of each moment and how one will bring you to the next.  Focus on the moment and trust in the future. Be responsive to your environment and always, always experience growth. It’s easy to forget this, when my head’s down working on my current project, focused on the next goal or upcoming deadline.

I feel lighter somehow, pleasingly empty from my 3500km of travel. It’s like I was able to leave the heavier bits of myself in the mountains, amongst the waves of the Salish sea and floating alongside the rock flour of glacial waters. Filled instead with the lightness of bird song, flower petals on the breeze and the warmth of a spring sun kissing my skin.

All In Good Time

My latest sculpture, The Totemic Landscape (Feminine) part way through the process.

My latest sculpture, The Totemic Landscape (Feminine), part way through the process.

As the last of the snow disappears from my backyard and I eagerly await the bloom of spring flowers, I find myself anticipating the completion of the project currently on my workbench. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Way ahead considering things are still in the early stages of wood removal. From a seasonal perspective, I’m still in mid-winter on this sculpture.

It’s super distracting, as a part of me keeps trying to jump the queue to completion while another fervently responds that some things cannot be rushed. It’s me versus me, and it’s starting to feel like a draw. So, like training a puppy that is overcome with enthusiasm, I turn to bribery. Playing music I can sing along to while I work or offering the reward of a favourite cup of tea, enjoyed in the sunshine, in exchange for some solid hours in the studio.

I repeatedly remind myself to stay focused.  

Like the arrival of spring, the next sculpture will occur but not until winter has run its course and the current project is sanded, the surface textured and the entire form rubbed with oil. Every day I practice patience, preach perseverance and all the while excitement continues to grow just below the surface. I can sense it, the tip of a fresh sculpture seeking to push its way through the landscape of ideas, determined to reveal itself.

To that creative drive, as natural to me as the change in seasons, I promise…all in good time.

 

 

Creative Bursts

The Games We Play (detail), ©Candace Sanderson, Basswood, Driftwood, Birch and Cherry

Everyone says ‘create a body of work, similar forms with similar context.’ As good fortune would have it, that’s what I enjoy. Creating a community, of sorts, with a relationship between each sculpture and where together they tell a full narrative. But occasionally I feel compelled to explore something different. Think of it like going for a long drive, that’s the body of work, and then you step out of the vehicle to fill your lungs with the fresh air of someplace new, that’s the something different. It’s exciting and invigorating!

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Text In Art

Version 2

I like writing, journaling, storytelling, even the physical act of practicing penmanship is a present-focused, meditative endeavour.  I like how what I write enhances what I create. I like how it tells the story of a piece I’ve worked on, laboured over and lived with, often for weeks and weeks.  I like that I can go back and read what I have written.  It tells me where I was, what I was working through, focused on, and learning.

I like that writing acts as a marker for growth.  When I re-read past stories, I can see where I’ve been and how one action led to another which in-turn brought me to my current place in life.  Writing is reassuring, it tells me that wherever I’m currently at isn’t where I will be forever.  That the possibilities of tomorrow are even greater than those of today.

Clearly, I like writing but…

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In The Mean-Time

jan-2017-blog

Here’s what I already know.  I know that when I’m working on a sculpture, getting ready for an exhibition or pursuing an idea I’m all-in.  I eat, breath and sleep art…my art.  The ideas come fast and furious, the days are too short and I live in one space, the studio.  It feels like it will last forever, this all-encompassing arena of creativity.  I warn myself about burn-out and mentally caution about asking too much of myself physically, emotionally and spiritually. But when you’re ‘on’, you’re ‘on’ and when the valve is open all the way the flow is seemingly never-ending.

Here’s the thing though, once the deadlines are met, the exhibitions have come (and gone) and goals are realized, then what?

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