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Celebrating Women: Chynna Howard

Chynna Howard is a defining example of what is possible when courage and selflessness are the primary qualities of a person’s make-up. This millennial woman is going to change lives with her accomplishments, and has already made an integral space for herself in Edmonton’s affordable housing community.

Howard, 27, is tackling the housing crisis head on through the founding of ‘Jill’s Place’, a rooming house located in Edmonton that she named after her mom. The rooming house will help homeless women that are in desperate need of housing in the city’s core, and is set to open in January 2017. While most people feel powerless to change the homeless crisis in Canada, Howard’s absolute selflessness is nothing short of mouth-dropping.

Howard started working in housing as a social worker at the Bissell Centre, a non-profit that provides a variety of services for the homeless, working for the outreach housing team in Edmonton. She began to notice a gap for women looking for housing in inner-city Edmonton and decided to tackle the issue herself. “The waitlists for housing are ridiculous. I was finding that these women didn’t have enough money and couldn’t find housing just for women,” Howard says. “They didn’t fit under the ‘domestic’ umbrella and didn’t want to be in a shelter. There was a lot of discrimination finding a roommate due to being aboriginal and homeless.”

Jill’s Place will provide a clean and safe home to women who are homeless in downtown Edmonton, and will help marginalized women with a place to live. Howard plans on using her skills as a social worker to help women in the home meet basic needs such as meal planning and groceries. She is also considering starting a crowdfunding campaign to help fund a welcome package for each woman that would include a towel, and other products. “I’m trying to benefit inner city women by providing safe and clean rooms. I know it is a really tough work, we need to provide clean and safe rooming homes,” Howard says. “I can fill out a rent report for them [the women who need help with rent living in the house] and take it to Alberta Works. For the most part, it will be a home. There will be a resource room with internet and a phone.”

Howard also decided to purchase the rooming house as a way to honour her dad’s memory, a high school teacher from Kelowna who passed away from cancer in 2014. “When he passed away, I was left money from his pension. I thought this would be the perfect way to use and honour that. It never felt like my money so I’m glad I found a way to honour it. I use everything he taught me to make this community better,” Howard says. “I wanted to make sure my dad’s legacy is carried on. People wonder how I’m able to financially do this. I’d give it back if I had him, but it isn’t that way so I will do this.”

In honour of her dad’s memory, Howard began the annual Clyde Howard Memorial Bursary intended for a female student in the Okanagan area entering post-secondary education.

Howard’s portrait of her father, Clyde.

Howard also happens to be a great artist and hopes to integrate an art studio into the rooming house for the women to use. “ I really like making art that has a message and makes you think,” Howard says. “I want to start making art that reflects this community. They also have an art walk in Edmonton and the women could show their work.”

Shadow Puppets and a Rogue Imagination. Artwork by Chynna Howard.

Howard is also an avid reader. She is currently reading “Starlight Tour” by Susanne Reber and Robert Renaud, the story of Neil Stonechild and the ‘Starlight Tours’ in Saskatoon. Howard claims it is a must-read for all Canadians. She enjoys listening to Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald in the midst of a busy life.

When I met Howard, I had this feeling that she was one of those beautiful people that seem to be put on the planet to make it a better place. I had once heard the term ‘indigo child’ used to explain people who have an almost ethereal power to rid our society temporarily of its ugliness, and leave it with just a little more beauty. That is most definitely Chynna Howard and the future success of ‘Jill’s Place’ will surely help many women in need.

What the hell happened to Nuit Blanche?

I remember the first time I went to Nuit Blanche. My sister and I headed out around 10 p.m. and stayed out until 2 a.m. wandering the streets of Toronto, taking a look and even taking part in some of the art. University Ave. was completely closed off and all of the exhibitions were placed on platforms outdoors. There were performance pieces, sculptures, photography galleries, and some really neat interactive installations. A few of the pieces were inside a few select buildings, but the majority was outside. Enjoying art under the stars — there is really nothing better.

As we made our way through the intense crowds, we were handed free samples of coffee or hot chocolate, pamphlets from sponsors, and a bunch of other goodies. There was live music and a few DJs, but mostly it was the atmosphere. All together, it seemed like an incredibly late night festival celebrating Toronto’s art community.

And I have to say I enjoyed it immensely.

This year, I left my house late at night hoping to experience something similar. And boy, was I disappointed.

I’m not sure if lack of funding was a factor, but there was very little that was good about this year’s Nuit Blanche. First of all, there was very little organization or signage. I managed to grab a map from a lone volunteer standing on a street by herself downtown, but aside from the rare volunteer and the odd Nuit Blanche square (it was an actual lighted square with a map and nothing else), there were no directions, arrows, or instructions as to how to find and/or enter each instalment.

Second of all — the lines!! If the point is to present art for the masses, this year’s Nuit Blanche failed. Most of the artwork was held inside, and therefore people had to line up to simply enter the building. Some of the interactive installations only let a dozen or so people in at a time.

The lines extended a few blocks and by the time I walked to the front to read the vague and artistic sign that explained what I would see if I decided to wait 45 min. outside in the cold, my mind was already made up. Like most people, I’m not willing to wait in line that long to see a few lights projected against a wall, no matter how modern it is.

The advantage of having art on the street rather than inside a building is that people can actually see it. There are no lines necessary. It also doesn’t make you feel as though you have to rush when you finally enter the building. I think in my total three hour Nuit Blanche experience, I only truly witnessed four or five installations.

And finally, there was no sense of community. Previous years, there were conversations about art, people spoke to one another, discussed what they were seeing, danced to the music, and celebrated Toronto’s culture.

The music, the atmosphere, it was all missing. Most of the time, I was left wondering: is this art or is this just a random group of people playing music dressed up as deer?

Sure, there were some really cool exhibits. “Pneuma” by Floria Sigismondi, a series of projections onto a steady stream of water being sprayed from the pool at Nathan Phillips Square, for example, was truly beautiful and mesmerizing Luzinterruptus’s Literature vs. Traffic was a treat for us book lovers and was quite the compelling installation.

But it wasn’t enough to warrant a whole night out. And by the end, I felt more exhausted than enlightened.

I realize that Nuit Blanche lost a significant amount of funding when Scotiabank pulled out, but if you are going to do it, make sure it is worth seeing. Because next year, some of us may not bother to show up.

Sarah Hall: making art out of renewable energy

In an age where technology seems to be getting smaller and sleeker, renewable energy is lagging behind. Even though people are constantly encouraged to live green, no one wants to see giant windmills in their parks or have metal panels on top of their roofs.

Limited resources and cost restraints in North America have created challenges for architects, engineers, and even artists in the design of sustainable buildings.

“Solar in North America often looks ugly, and then people reject renewable energy,” Toronto artist Sarah Hall says. “We have to start using as many renewables as possible, and I thought ‘well, if it’s beautiful, we can change people’s minds and help transform the industry as well’.”

Hall is one of the few innovators  incorporating renewable energy into artwork. One of her most notable pieces is “Waterglass”, a stained glass piece that can be found wrapped around the Enwave Theatre at Harbourfront in Toronto. While seemingly unnoticeable during the day, the piece comes alive at night. LED lights powered by the sun reveal 360 archived photographs of Lake Ontario, all stunningly preserved on di-chroic glass, the most expensive glass in the world at $1,000 per square foot.

The piece will create 1,750 kilowatt hours worth of electricity annually, enough to power the plug outlets within the building, according to Livio Nichilo, an engineering manager at Interenat Energy Solutions Canada. Nichilo consulted on “Waterglass” and analyzed the environmental impact of the project. He said that one of the biggest challenges was not to compromise artistic vision or technical efficiencies.

“The glass we designed for this project is the first of its kind in the world and we had to incorporate many technologies at once,” Nichilo says. “From my knowledge it hasn’t been done yet.”

“Waterglass” is one of six pieces Hall has created in North America using photovoltaic cells, which convert the sun’s rays into electric voltage. Each piece is connected into the power distribution of the building. For example, her piece “Leaves of Light” can be found outside the Life Sciences Building at York University illuminating the entranceway. Solar panels allow energy to be collected from the sun, which powers the LED lights that were placed between two beautifully painted pieces of glass.

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“Leaves of Light”, by Sarah Hall, lights up the entranceway of the Life Sciences Building at York.

Hall is also experimenting with bird-friendly glass that, in addition to collecting solar energy, will alter the reflections on large buildings in an effort to decrease the number of bird deaths in Canada.

About 10 million birds die in Toronto because they fly into glass buildings, particularly high-rise condominiums that are reflective and transparent. “I was astounded by that information and thought I may be able to do something in that direction and began thinking of al the technologies I’ve worked in and I knew these organic solar things were being done in the labs and I’ve never thought of using them”

The challenge is to make the glass transparent enough for people to see out of, but still opaque enough that birds won’t be tricked into flying towards it. Hall will be using organic photovoltaic cells used for this project — a relatively new technology developed by Oxford Photovoltaics in London. Once the prototype is complete, it will be tested at the American Bird Conservancy in New York before Hall can start to create proposals; although she has already provided a few sample designs.

A sample design of TD Tower in Toronto, provided by Sarah Hall.
A sample design of TD Tower in Toronto, provided by Sarah Hall.

Hall fell in love with glasswork at the age of nine. She studied in Canada, as well as in the United Kingdom and Jerusalem, and ended up opening a studio in Germany. It was there that an engineer named Christof Erban approached her with a way to integrate photovoltaic cells into glasswork. While other artists in the studio believed this would hinder their artistic abilities, Hall saw it as a challenge.

“All those guys said no. They said it would be an imposition to have a grid on their work, but I liked the idea of trying to work with that grid of technology in art and trying to change people’s mind about solar,” Hall says.

The challenge with using photovoltaic cells in art is that the designs have to be geometrical. Solar cells are square and require the use of wiring, which can hinder creative freedom.

“My artwork for many years was always geometry and organic, naturalistic work. To combine this geometry wasn’t as hard as another artist.”

Before she begins a design, Hall has to consult engineers and ensure that the electrical wires are properly introduced into the building’s systems and that they adhere to city codes. The traveling can also be tedious, as most of the work has to be done overseas. Hall’s main studio is in Germany. She had to move from Toronto because her studio on Dupont St. just wasn’t big enough for the scale of glasswork she wanted to complete.

“Germany and Austria was where the work had to be done,” Nichilo explains. “The biggest challenge was that what we were asking to do in terms of design couldn’t be completed here locally. We didn’t have the skill or equipment needed to do it.”

Unfortunately, it’s been up to artists like Sarah Hall to ensure that the architectural field is aware of its options and doesn’t shy away from using renewable energy for fear it will interfere with the functionality of a building. But at the same time, Hall is simply an artist, and above else she just wants to be creative and

“At first, there was quite a bit of scepticism taking something traditional like stained glass and moving it into an environmental positioning,” Hall says. “I also hope that other companies will get interested and figure this stuff out for themselves. As an artist … the commercial aspect isn’t the reason why I do it, but I hope that others will do it commercially — and I think they will.”

Top exhibitions to check out at CONTACT photography festival

Do you love photography? Look no further! Women’s Post has found the best venues in the city for the annual CONTACT Photography festival.

CONTACT Photography Festival runs from May 1 to 31 and is the largest photography festival in the world. CONTACT is celebrating its 20th year with 20 primary exhibitions and 20 public installations. Most of the primary exhibitions are free except for the one at the Art Gallery of Ontario and the McMichael Museum, which are providing discounted tickets to exhibitions on certain days. Public installations feature photographic images on walls, billboards and subway platforms for the people of Toronto to enjoy. The festival explores a variety of topics through the lens of photography and is well worth checking out.

Here are some of the best spots for the festival, enjoy yourself and let us know what you think!

D.I.Y Craft Projects: How to glamorize your wardrobe on a budget

Do you have an old pair of jeans or a t-shirt that you love, but they are looking a bit plain or out-of-style? D.I.Y fashion projects are a great way to revitalize your wardrobe while saving money! It can also turn into a fun afternoon with friends.

Need some inspiration? Here are a few fun D.I.Y projects that will leave you walking away with some great new pieces for your closet:

http://luneblog.com/

Bleaching your shirt with a funky phrase: Bleach can be a pain to work with, but it also has serious craft potential. Transform a simple, plain t-shirt or tank top into an original one-of-a-kind piece of clothing by creating your own quote or phrase.

  1. Place a flat sheet of cardboard inside your shirt. This will provide an even surface for your design and will stop the bleach from bleeding through. With a piece of white chalk, sketch out your design. Don’t worry if you need to smudge out chalk lines. They wash out once your painting is done.
  1. Secure your shirt by folding the sides under the cardboard, using elastics or clips to keep it from slipping. Prepare a small bowl with non-diluted, fabric safe bleach. Have your towel on hand to wipe up any drips.
  1. It’s time to make your design permanent! Dip your brush in the bleach and drag it on the edge of the bowl to eliminate dripping. Use steady strokes to trace the chalk lines of your design. For an even bleach line, you will need to reload your brush every two inches. You will quickly see your design appear, like magic!
  1. Continue to trace your design until you reach the end. Take a break, and return in a few minutes once the bleach has had time to react with the fabric of your shirt. Are there un-even spots or light areas? No problem. Simply go back in with your bleach filled brush and even out the design.
  1. Once you’re pleased with how your shirt looks, let the piece sit in the sun for an hour or more. This will allow the bleach to process and lighten. Depending on the cotton content of your shirt, the color of your design will range from dark red, to orange, to pink, all the way to white. Rinse and hand wash your shirt, and hang to dry. Your design is now permanent, safe to wash with like colors, and ready to wear.

Adapted from http://luneblog.com/

 

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Studded converse shoes: Converse are a pretty hip shoe, but their plain-Jane style can get a bit boring after awhile. Here is a way to glam up your shoes on a budget and also cover up any mud stains if you have a lighter colored shoe.

  1. You’ll need around 40 studs per shoe for a 7.5 size shoe and some E6000 glue. This strong glue will ensure those studs stay on despite the rain and much it may travel through.
  2. In a well-ventilated area glue your studs onto the outer edges of your shoe, working your way from the bottom to the top. Allow the glue to dry for 24 hours before wearing them. Save a few extra studs in case you lose one at some point. If any are going to fall off they’ll probably go in the first day or two!

Adapted from http://www.abeautifulmess.com/2013/11/make-your-own-studded-converse.html

D.I.Y cut-up back: There is nothing sexier than a shirt that reveals a bit of your back. SweetCandyLine teaches D.I.Y lovers how to covert a regular tee into a masterpiece using a pair of scissors and a little bit of ingenuity. Watch the live video to learn how!

Posted by SweetCandyLine, adapted from https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCTO_Atwt8ThyDAvLrvAZ7kQ

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Celtic headband made from old t-shirt: Here is a great D.I.Y that uses an old t-shirt to make a beautiful headband. It is a great way to recycle old clothing and create inexpensive accessories from your hair.

  1. Cut a strip from the t-shirt and stretch it until the material is thin.
  2. Cut the strip into two parts.
  3. Tie into Celtic knot (pictured above)
  4. Tie the headband together and as an extra option, cover with another piece of material to hide the tie.
  5. Enjoy your new hairpiece!

Adapted from http://www.jsonline.com/features/fashion/Old-T-shirt-becomes-DIY-headband-bracelet-230900631.html

 

Add-a-little-bling-to-your-collar

D.I.Y CD Bling Collar: CDs are becoming a thing of the past and this D.I.Y provides a creative, easy, and seriously fashionable way to re-use the groovy tunes.

  1. Place CDs in hot water for five minutes to remove plastic covering.
  2. Cut CD in half.
  3. Remove plastic coating on the CD.
  4. Cut up CD into pieces (be careful not to hurt yourself).
  5. Use crazy glue to stick the pieces onto a collared shirt (or make a shape on another shirt).
  6. Voila! Here is your new blinged up shirt!

Adapted From http://followfashion.nl/diy-fashion-report-pimp-je-kraag

 

 

“The clock so patiently waits on your song” – An ode to David Bowie

When I wrote the review of Blackstar last week and asked whether this was David Bowie’s ode to himself, an ode to his inevitable death, I did not expect such a literal response. Bowie passed away early on the morning of Jan. 10, merely two days after the release of his Blackstar album. I was devastated and couldn’t help but think that we’ve lost one of the greatest musicians of our time.

David Bowie was a musician, an artist, a film star, a performer, and a mime. He was an iconoclast and lastly, a self-proclaimed blackstar. The lyrics to the title song of his final album give his audience a final answer to his self-proclaimed public identity.

“I can’t answer why (I’m a blackstar)
Just go with me (I’m not a filmstar)
I’m-a take you home (I’m a blackstar)
Take your passport and shoes (I’m not a popstar)
And your sedatives, boo (I’m a blackstar)
You’re a flash in the pan (I’m not a marvel star)
I’m the Great I Am (I’m a blackstar)”

The beloved spaceman left fans an epic goodbye in Blackstar, as we all should have expected. In a way, a concept album to help fans understand his death is so very “Bowie”, defining his entire ideology as a performer and as an iconic influence of pop culture.

In 1995, Bowie’s notes on his album Outside said, “We don’t expect our audience to necessarily seek an explanation from ourselves. We assign that role to the listener and to culture. As both of these are in a state of permanent change there will be a constant “drift” in interpretation. All art is unstable. Its meaning is not necessarily that implied by the author. There is no authoritative voice. There are only multiple readings”.

Bowie defined a cultural movement that allowed the fusion of art, performance, and music into a pop culture. Instead of creating a single public identity, he let the audience ascertain the meaning of his various works. His 27 studio album career began in 1967 with David Bowie and ended with  Blackstar in 2016.  Bowie was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.

Bowie3-above arguably though

Arguably though, Bowie’s character was not completely absent from his role asThomas Jerome Newton in The Man Who Fell to Earth or Ziggy Stardust, his spacey alter-ego. Instead, Bowie’s success is that he managed to maintain a sense of absolute humanity and personality in his work while cultivating an air of mystery as to which direction he would take next as a performance artist and musician.

But, what makes a timeless icon? Perhaps it was Bowie’s ability to keep fans guessing while using his power as a pop culture icon to spread messages of love and acceptance. V&A researcher Dr. Kathryn Johnson, author of “David Bowie Is”, says, “this creative tension between power and empowerment is central to Bowie’s lasting cultural impact and enduring popularity”.

Bowie was a master of allusion. He created subtle references to reflect important issues — such as the blurring boundaries of gender and authenticity in creativity — thus enhancing his power as a relevant artist and musician. Bowie’s various works over the past four decades also highlighted and challenged “normal” ideologies.  In the essay “Out of this World: Ziggy Stardust and the Spatial Interplay of Lyrics, Vocals and Performance” by Barish Ali and Heidi Wallace, they make references to the power of allusion. “Allusions…lead the curious almost anywhere and thus expose the curious to culture that they might not otherwise have stumbled upon. These paths can amount to novel cultural genealogies, revealing connections where none were previously perceived.”

bowie-when david bowie played

For example, when Bowie played Ziggy Stardust, his alter-ego space alien messenger, he began to explore the idea of the “other” — either as a space alien or a person who dressed and acted uniquely. His androgynous costume style choices and performance techniques gave way for marginalized groups such as transgendered individuals to find empowerment in Bowie as a fearless cultural icon.

Bowie did not want his fans to get comfortable though. He abandoned his role as Ziggy Stardust suddenly and without notice on July 3, 1973.  In 1980, Bowie came out with Scary Monsters, which moved from the physical exploration of space aliens to the exploration of the trans-human experience. He dressed in stylized androgynous outfits and helped to create an important discussion surrounding the feminine and masculine. In 1983, Bowie shocked fans again with his release of Let’s Dance, where he embraced a more masculinized role, solidifying the idea that Bowie desired to exist as an impermanent cultural phenomenon rather than one defining impression.

images-Bowie's final album

Bowie’s final album, Blackstar, follows similar themes. It brings in the chaotic jazz influences last seen in his Scary Monsters album and pushes boundaries through the performative exploration of death. The final song of the album, “I Can’t Give Everything Away” defines the idea that Bowie was dedicated to giving his fans everything he could, but in the end the meaning was the audience’s to discover.

“When we hear Bowie’s voice, we do not hear the authoritative “Bowie” message or project. We hear the dramatisation of performative identity and culture in the making; we hear the fluctuation. And ultimately, we hear ourselves—our own responses to the indefinable,” says Ali and Wallace.

Blackstar is ultimately about death; yet, potentially, it is about the eternal life of Bowie’s work as well. He left his fans with a final goodbye, and one that can be cherished for years to come.  As Bowie prophetically stated in his role as Thomas Jerome Newton , “Well I know I’m not a scientist. But I know all things begin and end in eternity”.

See you in eternity Starman.

 

Are you adult enough for an adult colouring book?

It’s arguably the biggest new trend of 2015. With spots in Amazon’s Top 100 book list, as well as rave reviews from critics all across North America, adult colouring books are the perfect Christmas gift for the creative person in your life.

I couldn’t help myself when I went Christmas shopping the other day. I just had to pick up a copy. Anna Karenina: A Colouring Book Love Story includes images reminiscent of the Elizabethan era, complete with chandeliers, gowns, princesses, and princes. As an English student, this was the book that spoke to me directly.  I knew I was about to start something exciting when I found myself grabbing a pack of coloured pencils the same day to start ‘expressing myself’. Plus, at an average cost of $10-$15, they’re actually affordable.

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I came home that night and sprawled across the living room floor with a cup of tea and my hair in a messy bun, taking the persona of my version of a stereotypical artist. I took out my pencil crayons and hesitantly put a mark on one of the paintings. Surprisingly, it took a lot of effort and concentration to fill in the red lipstick I wanted the woman in the drawing to be wearing. The drawings are done in a rather intricate way and is definitely not meant for children (despite what some people may say!). I found the process rather calming, as I deliberately thought out which colour would look good in which area of the drawing. I was careful not to go past the lines- as difficult as that was -and did my best to make my work look artistic. In the hour and fifteen minutes that I spent behind this colouring book, I not only recalled my childhood, but I was distracted from my technology. I also confirmed a lot I knew about myself — I am a perfectionist with the attention span of a three year old.

Despite not having any professional background or experience in fine arts, the effort I put behind my artistic piece(s) would lead anyone to believe I was prepared to release them in an art gallery. I expressed utter disappointment when my colouring tactics were looking less than par, and put a little too much thought into each colour. Because let’s face it, what difference is there between a light green leaf and a dark green leaf? I went back to each flaw and tried fixing them using blending techniques and filling them in more deeply, thinking I could obtain the artistic abilities of Picasso in a matter of one hour — without natural talent, an instructor, or thousands of dollars of tuition. I used my fashion sense to try and colour bloc flowers and patterns.

The precision and perfection that these books encourage was definitely a huge barrier for me. I started more then five drawings without completing a single one. I can’t say that I’ll go back to finishing them either. I learned that the expectation of perfection is the first thing you have to let go of. Letting things flow naturally is the only way to acquire the therapeutic feeling that is said to come out of these colouring books. Because in the end, the result of my hard work and precision was a flower on one page, a sun and sky on another page, and half a lady on yet another page.

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Since my full fledged art session, I’ve only gone back to my colouring book a few times more. The pages are rather overwhelming for the average person, although the drawings do help create a sense of direction. I mean, let’s face it – I would never purchase a sketch book for myself and expect to freestyle. A colouring book, however, seems like the perfect activity for when you have a lot on your mind and would just like to relieve some stress. As my exam season winds down and my family and friends have started to come out of hibernation for the holidays, I am no longer as interested in my book as I was when I purchased it in the midst of deadlines and exam schedules. Maybe it’s just me, or maybe it’s another aspect of #studentlife.

After trying our these adult colouring books, I came up with the following conclusion: Maybe I just don’t qualify as an adult yet.  However, I do not regret my purchase. It’s aesthetically pleasing and helps keep you away from your phone for at least 20 minutes. But, if you don’t Snapchat your progress, are you even colouring? Besides, colouring is not something I would usually take up as a hobby, so the thrill of trying something new is rather refreshing in the midst of my mundane routines. I’ve decided to take this project up as an opportunity to let go of my perfectionist ways and just let the drawings be what they’ll end up being. If that means colouring a horse pink, then so be it! Quick tip: avoid googling finished adult  colouring book images, because you’ll most certainly be disheartened at your lack of colouring abilities. Despite this, I did come across some drawings that I will eventually want to colour (to its full potential)  because of the sheer gorgeousness that the artist has captured using mere ink.

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The overall verdict: give in and purchase yourself and/or your loved one a copy. It’s a fun way to do something childish while still being an adult. Plus it’s trendy, so why not?

Featured Image

Wowie Cowie

By Kevin Somers

 

We were visiting a cottage on a Muskoka island earlier this summer and between the ideal setting and toys that float, it was picture perfect.  Inside, large windows provided spectacular views from every glance, but amidst nature’s best, an oil painting by Ellen Cowie stood out.  It is a commissioned piece of canoes on the dock, with the lake and a neighbouring island in the background.  The sun is twinkling off rippling water and tranquility emanates from the canvas.  There’s a photographical precision to the piece, yet a surreal richness that couldn’t have come from a camera.  All the guests stopped to admire the work and agreed it was something special.

 

I had tea with Ellen recently and she’s as lively as her paintings.  “Family is everything to me,” she said.  Indeed, the second youngest of 10 children, Ellen and husband, Brian, married for 25 years have 6 kids of their own, between 23 and 14.  “They’re all wonderful people,” she said of the extended clan.

 

Ellen has paint in her veins: her mother’s mother worked in oil and her father’s brother was a gifted sketch artist.  Grandmother, Rose McGuire, raised 10 kids during the depression and didn’t begin painting until she was in her 60s.  Although she began late, Grandmother was talented and prolific.  “Her paintings were always around,” Ellen said.  “Her style was more towards realism.”  Ellen’s uncle, was not a professional artist, but, “He drew and sketched everyday.  One of my strongest memories from childhood is him coming on Sunday and sketching with a pencil or a piece of charcoal.  In a few seconds, and with 15 lines, he could capture a portrait.  He was a truly an amazing artist.”

 

Cowie has taken something from both, combining the realism of her Grandmother with the startlingly swiftness of her Uncle.  “I go straight to work,” she said, “no sketching or measuring, I just start painting with oil.”  Although deceased, Ellen’s ancestors speak to her still, “Sometimes when I step back and look at my painting, I hear my uncle say, That’s enough, Ellen, and then my grandmother says, Maybe a little more over here, Dear.”

 

Because of higher obligations, Ellen has only been painting full time since 2001.  “I always knew I would be an artist surrounded by family,” she said, but how she’s arrived at this point is the stuff of legends.  “I got married when I was 18.  I loved Brian Cowie and wanted to have a family with him.”  Brian’s career meant the family has moved 15 times.  “There were times when I’d go months without painting,” she said.  Laughingly, she explained how her family would force her to go and paint because her withdrawal from creating made her irritable.  “I always came back feeling better.”

 

After misdiagnoses, it was discovered in 2000 that Ellen had severe thyroidosis and her nodal gland was removed.  The three years previous, while raising her family with a wonky thyroid, Ellen had also been parking cars at Casino Rama.  “I was exhausted all the time.  In the hospital, a light came on.  I thought, what am I doing?” and she gave up parking for painting.

 

Brian is Native, so Ellen has full status and received assistance from Kagita Mikam, an organization dedicated to helping First Nations people.  “Their financial and moral support really helped me get started and I’m so grateful to them.”  Another break came from Ellen’s brother, Jim Donnelly, owner of Foot’s Bay Marina on Lake Joseph in Muskoka.  In 2002, he provided Cowie space to take part in the area’s annual studio tour, The Big Art Thing.  The show was a success and later that summer Jim asked Ellen to return to the marina because he had a surprise.  Jim had converted part of his business into a seasonal gallery.  “Go home and paint over the winter and fill the gallery with nice work,” he said.

 

It was a daunting prospect, but when opportunity knocked, Cowie answered with enthusiasm.  Along with her talent and work ethic, the gallery provides Ellen with an ideal location.  During the summer, she paints outside the gallery and the public can watch her work.  “Wayne Gretzky’s family watched me paint every day for 5 days while they were on vacation,” she said.  When a young man commented to Janet Gretzky that Ellen’s painting was like a photograph, Janet, who knows Greatness, replied, “No, it’s better than a photograph.”

 

Person, place, or thing, Cowie is confident; “If I see it, I can paint it.  I’m not afraid of the canvas.”  She prefers commissioned work, “It’s challenging.  If someone wants me to paint something they are passionate about it, so I have to find inspiration in it too.”  You can see that inspiration at www.artincanada.com/ellencowie/.  This may be the ancestors talking, but I think Ellen Cowie is going to be BIG.

Exploring Toronto’s artistic side to improve your home

Toronto is full of colour, culture and creative flair. If you are in the process of finding the right painter to decorate a new pad but are stuck for artistic and interior design ideas, Toronto is known for its vibrant side, which offers creative inspiration to its residents and visitors all year round. Here is a look at some of the points of interest in Toronto to look out for.

The Art Gallery of Ontario

This towering structure houses 80,000 exciting exhibitions from works which celebrate the past to modern performance pieces and sculptures. It is one of the largest art museums in North America and was expanded further in 2008. The new building alone – designed by Frank Gehry – offers interior design ideas and inspiration for your own pad, including how to manipulate more natural light into a space using the right material.

Toronto International Art Fair

More than 100 fine art galleries take part in Toronto’s annual art fair, Canada’s only contemporary visual art event. Its exhibitions include the NEXT gallery, which showcases emerging artistic talents, and FOCUS ASIA, which, as the title suggests, focuses on ornate, traditional and modern Asian art.

The great outdoors

Take advantage of Toronto’s beautiful surroundings to transfer to your own space, inside and out.

From classic topiary and geometric shapes at Edwards Garden to unspoilt landscapes in Toronto Island Park, have some fun picking out natural colours and bold plants. Cross over to the Beaches neighbourhood with its mazes of stylish colonial houses with planted sidewalks as well as beachside views. Nearby is the lush Kew Park and Gardens, with a myriad of planting ideas for your garden.

Markets

St Lawrence Market is a must-visit moving landmark in Toronto. This farmers market is a perfect chance to pick up some great kitchenware whilst having a bite to eat and partaking in some people watching. Alternatively, have a wander around the little boutiques and outside stalls at the Kensington Market, a colourful bohemian hub by Spadina Avenue. Be warned, parking is nonexistent.

Shopping

Where better to find new decorative items than in the safe and sure environment of a mall? Toronto boasts many malls which have little boutiques alongside recognizable larger stores including the Eaton Centre with more than 320 stores in Downtown Toronto as well as the Yorkdale Shopping Centre which has rave reviews from past visitors. If you are looking for bespoke, designer interior design items, Toronto has premium stores dotted around its streets including Made which showcases young, fresh designer items and the larger Kiosk store which has floors of inspiring furniture collections.

 

Women of the Week: Alison Dalglish-Pottow

For Alison Dalglish-Pottow, FPI Gallery is a labour of love.

“Art has always been a passion of mine, fostered at a very young age by my parents who took me to important art galleries and museums around the world as part of our summer family vacations.”

The greatest sign that she was meant to enter the art field was when she was admitted into Sotheby’s  prestigious Works of Art course. Attending the course meant leaving Canada for England, but this would prove to be a wise decision.

“Studying in the historically, architecturally and culturally rich city of London gave me a heightened appreciation for pursuing art as a possible career,” she says. “The art scene was vibrant and thriving, far eclipsing what was happening in Canada.”

Although the next several years would see her pursuing other career opportunities, working for companies such as IMG and CANFAR, she would eventually find her way back to the art world.

“Sometimes we sideline what we enjoy in favor of more practical, and oftentimes more prudent choices in life. It’s nice to discover that it’s never too late to revisit what we enjoy if a better time to do so comes along. That time came for me and when it did, I didn’t hesitate to run with it.”

Her baby, FPI Gallery, is a gallery for the new digital world. The idea for the gallery was born from Alison’s interactions with an emerging artist, Dean West.

“Dean West’s images were so captivating and compelling that I immediately knew he was a rising star in his field. All he needed was a little help in getting in front of the right collectors.”

Thus, Alison decided to create a completely online gallery. Why online? “A bricks and mortar gallery can be territorially restrictive,” Alison says. By focusing on a digital gallery, her clients’ works can be seen by collectors worldwide and news of the emerging talents can spread much more easily.

The gallery focuses solely on contemporary fine-art photography “where collectors can find the world’s best emerging fine art contemporary photographers in one place, without getting lost in the volume of art available on other websites worldwide.” This makes her site easier to navigate and much less time-consuming than galleries with wider ranges.

One of Alison’s major goals at FPI Gallery is to ensure the gallery is about the artists, not her. Unlike other online art websites, she keeps no standardized menu of dimension sizes and allows each artist to set his or her own price and edition size.

Knowing that many artists are uncomfortable with the typical gallery agreements, she designed a business model that would better suit their needs.  And by choosing to represent no more than 10 artists at a time, Alison ensures each will get the attention and promotion they deserve.

“At the end of the day, it’s about preserving value. I’m not going to permit profit to lead over sustainability of the artists and future appreciation of their work.”

This devotion to artists and their craft is clearly Alison’s greatest purpose. She stresses the need for people “to support the arts and the artists who dedicate themselves to pushing the frontiers of thought and influence.”

“Art is a living legacy of our history, politics and culture,” she says.

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Alison Dalglish-Pottow

President, Flash Photography Inc.

E: alison@fpigallery.com

www.fpigallery.com