Category Archives: Uncategorized

Stitched Illustration

I’ve always sewn clothes, made pictures, sculptures–tactile, physical objects that I could share with others pretty easily.

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The lakeshore, formerly at 76.5 metres above sea level had risen by 15 metres and was lapping at Queen Street West. From The Bones, Chapter 2, by Laura Wythe

For a number of reasons, writing has become a great creative and personal outlet for me.  But how to show and share words? Contests, blogging, writing plays and joining writing groups have worked for short fiction.

Recently I finished a novel, inspired in part by a street in Wortley Village. Tecumseh Avenue is the only native name among so many traditional English names. It took a lot of research to find out the story behind the name, and I used the presence of this First Nation man in The Bones.

The main character is Catherine Blackwood, the textile curator at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. She grew up on a farm next to the battlefield north of Chatham where Tecumseh died in the War of 1812. She heads back to the farm, now in Flood Zone 4, obsessed with making one last search for Tecumseh’s bones. (I’ll blog more about the Tecumseh story.)

I’m used to showing and telling what I’ve been up to. The logical thing — for me — was to make a series of illustrations and launch a book with pictures! Catherine, the textile curator, came to mind as having the perfect point of view for the illustrations.

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gathering materials for The Bones Laura Wythe

For more than 2 years, I have collected textiles–table linens, threads, and other bits and embellishments. I have pored over maps and charted the travels of the characters through a flood ravaged land. I have joined London branch of the Canadian Embroiderer’s Guild to bone up on my stitching techniques.

I have 4 months left to finish the illustrations, and literally thousands of stitches to go.

 

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Indie Publishing

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A long time ago, in the town I grew up in, I had my first Indie publishing moment in Mr. Smith’s Canadian Lit class. I wrote the story, drew the pictures, hand printed the words, and bound the pages with red electrical tape. Pretty cool. An excellent teacher, Mr. Smith went through the pages with pencil and pointed out my not-too-numerous spelling and grammar mistakes. He whispered to me (I was a class-slacker) that I should get this book published. I thought it was.

Little did I know at the time “nurd” would be become a part of our vocabulary, and have a different spelling!

Now with online printing platforms, I can go beyond a short children’s story and print out a whole novel, and many copies! In my case, I used CreateSpace, and being a pencil and paper girl, I had a hard time until I just followed the instructions. Oh yes, and I enlisted a friend’s help!

Talking out design problems and getting the book just right was a great experience, and now it’s done. I have a BIG book.

Mind you, I also booked a venue to hold an art show in 2018 — can’t resist illustrating a novel. Deciding how to include illustrations is still to be decided. I’d like it to have some of the charm of an “old-school” book, maybe with colour plates pasted onto blank pages opposite the text, or scattered through more randomly. It won’t be hand printed, but the illustrations will be hand-made.

I’m proud to announce the release of The Bones, and will be among the small presses and indie authors at London Ontario’s Wordsfest — Southwesto Book Expo — held November 4 and 5th at Museum London. A cool start for a book.

Meet local author_landscape

 

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Joy of colour

It’s been a grey monotone winter, and I’ve been working on a large project with a theme of rain. More greys and damp and sombreness. Every now and again, there’s a tiny break in the grey blanket of sky, shadows, even a bit of blue. It doesn’t matter if it’s morning or night, it’s all a progression of grey.

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Detail of Sari Splendor square by Laura Wythe

Into the grey came a workshop called Indian Splendor led by Donna Funnel, hosted by the London branch of the Canadian Embroiders Guild. Step by step we were led to a guarantee of colour harmony and wonder. It really is important to trust the instructor, especially when they say, choose your colours, any colours will work.

Sari ribbon is a new material for me, and of course, the ribbons came in brilliant colours and textures. Donna also had some sari silk yarn that matched the silks but brought another layer of texture when all was done. We created a base with the ribbons, then cut and embellished. Of course, I bling-ed my project up with shiny yarns, sequins and beads–and some variegated silk thread.

So, here’s the finished project.

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Full size Sari Splendor square by Laura Wythe

Donna has used the squares in an entirely different way to create a stunningly detailed wall hanging. Simple structure, amazing results.

What a riot of colour for a dull winter’s day.

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Take Away Art

On the way out of the Central Branch of the London Public Library, I noticed a table with a sign: Take Away Art. An man of many years with a walker noticed the same table, and instead of avoiding it, as in avoiding contact between strangers, we both stopped and checked out the artwork in a basket: screen-printed canvas, black on natural canvas, likely cotton.

The man told me he had made artwork many years ago, up in Kincardine where he lived until 25 years ago. He had a favourite piece, one he’d painted on glass. He’d lived at home until he was 22 because there was a dance hall across the street from him, no need to leave for some excitement. In his “old” age (he confessed to feeling quite young at times) he was studying Greek and Hebrew, and “all the universe,” which, if I understood him well enough, boiled down to the number 5. Then he had to go, but as with many long-lifers, he gave me his opinion that young people weren’t active enough, and how it was a shame. There had been too many teens drowned in the lake up his way in recent years. He didn’t remember anyone drowning when he was a youth. Young folk, pay attention and get a life outside your media devices. Such was our encounter, a rambling circling chat between generations.

But, he wouldn’t take a piece of art. He wanted to make something himself.

I took a piece of art–it seemed too much good fortune just to pass by. The back of the canvas is signed, and there’s details about the print run. Only, I would ask Charles Harris (working on his MFA at Western University), if he’d  be really upset if I embellished his Take Away Art. Not sure how to reach him. I have been putting away the devices for more and more of my days, and I’m embroidering. Not like my mom or gran, but like me. And if ever there was a piece of cloth needing embellished, it’s this Take Away print. Like fries needing ketchup. Sorry Charles.

Or maybe I shouldn’t. Should I let it stand as a statement, now a statement of private art in my eclectic collection. I’d like to find ways to make it public again, like the case of the “Traveling Pants.” Perhaps send it on a journey among friends who embroider and embellish and quilt and bind books, and …

In any case, without this Take Away Art in the branch of the Central Lbrary, I wouldn’t have had such a charming chat. Cheers to the Take Away Artist!

 

 

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A studio: permission to create

It’s been a work of love and sweat this summer. The old garage that housed junk and critters is now re-purposed as a studio.

garage to studio

garage to studio

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I can write anywhere, I can sketch anywhere. But I need a safe space (and I emphasize space) to pull a piece of artwork together. And I’m so grateful that Steve has the ability to stretch his building talents to put this space together. It’s looking pretty white right now–truly a blank canvas–but soon it’ll be messy with colour, textiles, found items, drawings. A comfy chair and drafting table too!

Shetland days

Love the way Kate carries traditions forward, still uses the land and environment for inspiration!

Rewriting the Future

There is power in story. Don’t let the media, your boss, your parents, your partner tell your story. Sit with it, write it, and revisit it until it fits just so.

Bronwyn T. Williams

A recent article in the The New York Times (“Writing Your Way to Happiness”) talked about the research by psychologists such as Timothy Wilson who maintain that writing can lead to changes, not only in mood, but also in our perception of self. There has, for a while, been research to indicate that if we write about how we’re feeling, there can be a benefit to how we handle trauma, or just our daily emotions. But the work of Wilson and others argues that, in addition, if we reshape the story we’re telling in our writing, that can have positive effects on our perceptions of self. To quote the article:

“The concept is based on the idea that we all have a personal narrative that shapes our view of the world and ourselves. But sometimes our inner voice doesn’t get it completely right. Some researchers believe that…

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Making peace

An orphan and a farm labourer, my grandfather, Fred, lied about his age, signed up for World War I under an assumed name, and left Huron County for the adventure of his life.

Fred returned a hero by virtue of his service, and yet he was horribly traumatized from his experiences overseas, and then by the loss of his young wife and a baby, likely from the influenza epidemic. He left Canada again, this time to make his fortune in the building boom in Detroit. In the giddy swirl of the 1920’s, he married my grandmother.

Helen's father brought her and Fred back from Detroit after the Crash. 1930

Helen’s father brought her and Fred back from Detroit after the Crash. 1930

When the stock market crashed, so did his contracting business.  His father-in-law drove to Detroit in 1931 to bring back his daughter and her family, including Fred, home to London.

Living in the peace and prosperity he fought for was never completely possible for Fred. He’d be triggered by anything, it seemed, and then act out a war-time scenario. Rumours swirled about whether the first wife died of natural causes, or had my grandfather become violent.  My mother and her oldest sister, along with my grandmother, took the brunt of many of his episodes.  In an instant, he would be back in Europe crossing a field or in the trenches, bombs and gunshot flying–as though he was there. He’d never talk about those incidents, but he did say he had been injured “by a potato masher.” In other flashbacks, he might think he was in the hospital, struggling with the nursing staff (a new concept in 1918!), calling them whores as they cared for his wounded body.

Through his untreated PSTD, I received my education about war.  It wasn’t glorious.  All my grandfather’s actions were motivated by fear, or the need to create fear in others. He did what he could to survive. I remember being four-years-old in the early 1960s and my grandfather being triggered by the light strobing through mature trees along a country road.  We had to get out of the vehicle, get into the ditch.  One learned not to cry, as it attracted the “enemy.” Survival came at a cost and a crying child was a liability.

The experience of war is secondary for me, via my grandfather. It was unreal, quite out of touch with the peaceful and secure lives we lived when he wasn’t around.  I learned that a war isn’t ever won or lost, and done with.  The acts of war carry on, rippling through generations.

Remembrance Day for me is very personal. Hostility, and aggression, and fear rippled around me as a child.  So did compassion, careful listening, and problem-solving. Even though my grandfather brought the horror and violence of war into his household, he was treated with respect and compassion by his family. Their actions gave me strength in situations of violence and conflict. I learned to greet this man, who could become a monster, from the point of view of compassion–and a healthy wariness.

On Remembrance Day, I remember Fred, and I remember to practice the lessons of peacemaking that my grandmother and her family, and my mother and her sisters, taught me.

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For Sue

From Righting the Mother Tongue by David Wolman (2008), and special thanks to the London Public Library and their wonderful website and book collection.

This is the theme song for the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, Great Britain:

On the twelfth day of the schedule

my client sent to me: 

Twelve sheets of briefing

Eleven text equations

Ten symbols lurking

Nine sexist pronouns

Eight footnotes missing

Seven misquotations

Six clauses dangling

Five chapters more!

Four fuzzy graphs

Three locked files

Two authors French

And a typescript all neat and tidee

Call of the Wild, really?

It’s funny what sticks in one’s mind.  There’s so much information around us that I find some of it isn’t quite what one thought after it’s been fact-checked.  Memory glitches, brain farts, stupidity, or perhaps, serendipity.

Recently I workshopped a short story about a farmer who was peeing to mark his territory against coyotes, and someone in the critique group mentioned Farley Mowat had done that, hadn’t he?  The bit of information seemed familiar, a sticky bit, and I wondered if I was referencing Mowat in the story.  I searched the library and came away with a totally different book, Call of the Wild by Jack London.  

Not the right book, not all.  Major brain fart.  But what harm could come from reading a children’s classic?  Through Buck, the dog, London develops a thesis of power and leadership that is cunning and Machiavellian, claiming it is “natural.”    What had inspired my story was a totally different way of being in the wild.   I made notes, mentally, about the way Buck went after power among his fellow dogs, how he became a leader.  I think I’ve used, and been on the receiving end, of some of the techniques.

Call of the Wild was not the book I wanted to read.  It’s a violent, Lord of the Flies classic where the wild is savage.  Yet it reminds me that there are narratives all around us about using violence to cripple others, to seize power.   In some areas of the world, the violence is physical.  Closer to home, the violence is more through withholding resources and information, character assassination, isolation.

This makes politics difficult, when it’s about power rather issues.  I can’t remember where I read this, but someone said that a campaign for justice is on the right track when the attacks become personal, when the isolating begins.  That it’s part of the cycle of change and it’s bloody.  But it’s a mark of being on the right path.  I think of Maude Barlow as being an example of this.

Another version of the wild is still stuck in my head.  It’ll be interesting to see if Never Cry Wolf is the story where the man marks his territory in the wild with his pee, and not with firearms.  I’ll be tracking the book down, circling the text, isolating the words when I find them–not to savage anything but to understand.

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