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SO SAY WE ALL

No one ever said it was going to be easy.

As I spend a morning with a good friend and fellow artist I hear her say what I’ve voiced a million times in frustration, ‘This is so hard!’ Not the creating, not the art making. That part of things comes as natural to us as breathing.

All the rest of it is the tough stuff, the hard stuff.

Then, with barely a pause, she states, ‘But I don’t want to do anything else.’ It’s like listening to myself speak the very words I routinely tell myself. A personal mantra that, as it turns out, is used by another.

Our time together sent me digging through my notes, searching for what follows below. I wrote this eleven months ago, it remains relevant today and I expect it will continue to do so into the future. A part of me wonders if, after reading it, my friend will feel she could have written it herself.

I can do this.

No matter how difficult it may seem.

It is worth it.

There are no other choices.

There is no other path.

From the beginning,

this is all there is.

I want this,

beyond anything else,

beyond anyone else.

From now until the end.

But, not for me.

Not that One me.

But for the many parts of me.

All who cry out for the same thing.

This!

I may not have asked for this life.

Even lamented…

How unfair that the choice was made for me.

With total disregard

for what I may have wanted.

Yet…

Here is where I am.

Through choices.

Through options.

I have created this path.

I want all that it has to offer,

the stomach clenching highs

and heart crushing lows.

A soul never truly at ease.

I can do this.

No matter how difficult it may seem.

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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.

 

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Fire

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.

 

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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.

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All In Good Time

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.

 

 

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Creative Bursts

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…

Does text have a place in or on a piece of artwork?

I know that the written word when included on a piece of artwork isn’t to everyone’s liking. I can remember a time when I would look at a piece of art and say to myself ‘If only it didn’t include the words…it would be so much better”. Well, as it turns out my opinion regarding text on art has evolved.

Now when I look I ask myself, “Why? Why did the artist choose to include text?”  I search for context and meaning behind the artist’s use of text.  How did they utilize what can sometimes be a visually distracting element?  Then I decide, were they successful?  Does it add to my understanding of the piece or the individual who made it?  Would the piece be as successful without the words?

Version 2

A closeup of my latest sculpture detailing 1406 words written free hand and burned into a birch beam.

Yup, that’s a whole lot to consider and it has taken me years to get here.  Considering how I used to think, it’s not an exaggeration to say that I’ve taken a huge leap when choosing to add text to one of my own sculptures.  I wanted to use words as a skin, a pattern.  Like wood grain or the bark on a tree.  The focus isn’t the words themselves and the story they tell, although that’s part of it, they are intended to be a representation of my process and ultimately of myself.

When I’m in the developmental stages of a project my sketch book often contains more words than it does drawings.  Notations for ideas, possibilities, research information, history, myth, legend, all of this is considered when I’m deciding on the form.

So, if my work is about me and how I experience this world then I must acknowledge that the written word is a big part of that journey.  I am aware that including text risks alienating those who will lament, much in the same way I used to, “If only it didn’t include the words…it would be so much better.”

However, I’ve learned to trust my instinct and it’s telling me that this is the right sculpture and now is the time to experiment with the written word.

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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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The Studio

Without the art there is nothing to share, nothing to talk about, nothing to feel, nothing to connect us.  Marketing, self-promotion, website development, brochures, social media posts, the list goes on and on.   All of that is well-and-good and a necessary part of every artist’s career.  Strip all of that away however and what remains is the studio.  A solitary space that drives everything.  The studio is more than just a workshop filled with tools, it is the heart of what I do and everything is driven by its pulse.

sanderson-the-studio-2016

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+ Life Markers - October 2015, installation piece

Marker In The Making

Unfinished cedar, beetle-kill pine, cedar shavings and a couple of chisels. An image filled with raw potential and unlimited possibility. Photograph by Prairie Ranger Photography

I know you.
Stood next to you
among your brothers and sisters.
Felt the same wind,
sun,
rain
upon my skin.

You know my inspiration.
Have seen their face,
heard their voice,
felt their touch.

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Figure Drawing – why I do it

female-seated-c

©Candace Sanderson, Seated Female (c). Charcoal and conté on toned paper.

I love sculpting – in an obsessive, driven sort of way – but drawing brings its own kind of pleasure. 

In particular, the human form, the sweeping curve of a hip, the voluminous shadow cast by a breast, or the bright highlight on a forehead and cheek.

All are reasons enough for a sculptor whose work has been typically non-figurative to draw the human body.

Luckily for me, our local Centre for Creative Arts  offers a weekly drop in drawing night with a live model.  It gives me the chance to draw the human form without having to resort to using myself as the model.  (Trust me, that awkward self-portrait is very different from all those selfies we seem to love to take.)

Most of the time I use drawing as a tool, sketching line and volume that are then translated into three dimensions. How I look at a subject intended for sculptural work is very different from how I see it when I’m drawing for the sole purpose of making marks.

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Some Things Are Too Good Not To Share

The following question was put to me by a subscriber in response to my previous post:

How many people never complete their projects because unconsciously they have a fear that there won’t be something else to start on, or they don’t have a sense of direction that will propel them towards something and the sadness connected to completing something is hard to feel. How does one push past this to complete and finish projects?     

I thought the question was too good not to share and so, rather than reply to just a single reader, I figured a better option was to put it out there for everyone to consider.  My answer is based on my experiences as a full-time sculptor (obviously).  However, I was pleasantly surprised by the observations I made about my practices as a career-focused artist.

“…a fear that there won’t be something else to start on…”

For me, and perhaps others, this fear can also mask other thoughts…what if the next project is horrible? What if I can’t recreate the success of the previous project?  What if I’ve already done my best work?  My response to this, to use social media as an example, is to un-friend that part of my personality and block the negative self-talk.

Here are a couple of tricks I’ve learned that help to move past the fear of there being nothing else:

  • Keep a notebook handy to jot down any ideas that pop into your head while working on your current project
  • Write down every idea.  Don’t let yourself think about whether it’s good or bad, at this point it’s irrelevant.
  • Focus on what you like about what you’re doing.  That can be the process, the medium you’re working with or even the thoughts that it generates.  This type of positive focus leads to enjoyment in the act of creating without a constant focus on completion.
Version 2

A stack of journals from the past years of writing. My idea book includes quotes, poems, project ideas and even quick sketches.

“…don’t have a sense of direction that will propel them towards something…”

Setting goals and identifying the direction we wish to go is intensely personal.  That being said, the old adage of crawl-walk-run holds true for this one.   What does that look like to me?

  • Set a goal, any goal, it doesn’t matter how big or small (although you’d be surprised how achievable the really big stuff can be).
  • Take one small action that moves you toward that goal.  Enough small movements and you end up somewhere else.  Sometimes, it isn’t where you expected to be, but other times you are exactly where you hoped to arrive.

I find it helps to check in on a daily basis with myself.  Where am I at?  Has my path altered or disappeared completely?  If so, why?  Asking why however is only useful if I actually take the time to honestly search for an answer.  Then prepare myself to make changes based on what I find out.

“…the sadness connected to completing something is hard to feel…”

Similar to goal setting, how we respond to completion is unique to the individual.  I don’t know if others have the same experience that I do upon completion.  Maybe they call it something else or identify with it in a different fashion.  Perhaps there are even those people who don’t feel sadness but rather exultation or celebration.  I know people who have multiple projects on the go at any given time, so I expect their experience is dramatically different from mine.

For me, art imitates life, and so loss or sadness seems natural when the driving force behind creating ends along with the finishing of a project.  I would say that what we feel isn’t the point, recognizing that we feel something is.  Then to determine if that emotion works to our advantage or not and alter our process accordingly.

“How does one push past this to complete and finish projects.?”

Just pushing isn’t enough, while it can be effective it is also exhausting.  I find that it helps if you have some tools to push with:

  • Establish solid routines that will help you achieve your goals.  On a bad day trust that those routines will get you where you wish to be.
  • Be ruthless in protecting yourself, from the negativity in ourselves and other negative people.
  • Remind yourself that it’s ok to alter your goals, or change how you are going to achieve them.

I will often negotiate with myself, ‘When I finish this project then I can begin the next one.’  It is because I am so excited about the next idea that I am able to push myself to complete what’s currently on my work bench.  Admittedly an upcoming show often provides the impetus for completion which takes us back to setting goals, particularly ones with deadlines.

I’ll admit it also helps to be more than a little obsessed.  I am a huge proponent of ‘positive obsession’.  How else do we get things done unless we are obsessed about them?

Version 2

I am fascinated by different font styles and will often draw up my favourite quotes on scraps of paper.

 

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