Musings

What I have learned from residencies and traveling is that anything can happen, everything can change and it is beneficial to learn to adapt quickly. Stay flexible. This is something I find myself thinking of right now. Everything looks familiar outside… but I know it is also different. A change of routine… or a lack of routine. A fresh slate, as it were. And so here I find myself in my second-floor apartment at my kitchen-table-studio, trying to get my head around the strangeness of what is happening and trying to figure out how I fit into the picture and how I can adapt.

These past few weeks have been difficult ones for me, as I am sure they have also been for many of you navigating life right now. I am trying to remind myself that difficult doesn’t mean bad. Challenges are not bad. A change of routine is not bad. When life is smooth it’s easy to click into “default mode”, but when something upsets the expected flow I am reminded of the value in paying attention.

Especially when their are voids in life, things that are missing (like a job or a family member), it is important to be thankful. One of the countless things I am thankful for is art. It helps me to process, it gives me space to be quiet, and it settles my brain from working in high gear. To take time to stop thinking about life’s complications and slow down and concentrate on the tip of my pen and the line it is drawing is freeing. Strangely enough, I think when I am unaware I am thinking I think the most effectively (sorry if that doesn’t make sense). I encourage all of you to do something creative today–trust me, it’s not just for the “gifted” or the “artistically inclined”. It is about the journey after all, not the destination.

I have been loving my Picture By Post project! Through it I have had the opportunity to reconnect with friends and make new ones. It has been something fun and encouraging for me to focus on and I have enjoyed many walks down the road to the postbox with a happy stack of envelopes. It’s actually strange to think that during this time of distancing I’ve connected with way more people than I would have otherwise. I am grateful for the conversations, the connections and the lovely photos that people have sent me back through this project. The pictures have been posted all across Canada (from right here in Victoria all the way to Nova Scotia), the USA, England and even to Germany!  I would like to say thank you to everyone who has participated so far (and if you would like to have a Picture By Post mailed to yourself or a friend, please click here to contact me).

Thank you @chirp2lou for bringing your Pictures By Post to the beach and sharing these lovely photos!

I would love to hear what you are doing to deal with all the changes right now. How are you adapting? Have you tried something new? Or maybe picked up an old project to finish?

Stay strong. Be encouraged. Ask for help if you need it. We are in this together. =)

Picture by Post Project

A lot of things are up in the air and changing these days. I am finding myself looking forward to more “time off” (AKA studio time) than I was expecting. As a way to beet the social distancing blues I came up with the following project… Picture by Post! 

Would you like to receive a mystery artwork in the mail?
I have recently been inspired to start a new project… Picture by Post! Combining two things I love – mail & art. For $10 I will create an original 5″x7″ drawing or painting and mail it to you.

Why do it?
🔹 So you can look forward to receiving “fun” mail

🔹 Buy really affordable art

🔹Maintain social distance by receiving through the post

🔹Anticipate a surprise!

🔹Support local art 👍

You can expect any of the following:

  • A watercolour 🖌
  • Pen & ink drawing 🖋
  • Graphite drawing ✏
  • Gouache painting 🖌
  • Imaginary sea creatures
  • Whale drawings
  • Ocean inspired themes
  • Or whatever I feel like creating in the moment!

How to participate:

  • Contact me to request a mystery artwork and send me your mailing address (or the address of a friend!)
  • Payment via e-transfer
  • Sit back and look forward to collecting your artwork from your very own mail box!

Picture by Post poster

Under observation in the studio

As most of you know, my work revolves around finding connections between art and science and looking for ways express scientific ideas visually through art. My husband has been encouraging me for a while to look at my work under a microscope as another way to merge these two practices. I am excited to share with you that this past weekend we were able to finally explore this idea. And wow–it takes observation to a whole different level. Looking so closely that I’m not even sure what I’m looking at any more. It is an interesting reminder that all art is abstract because its not actually an image that you are looking at, but strokes of pigment attached to the fibres of your drawing paper. The picture below shows a tiny close up of part of a salt formation on one of my seawater drawings. I love the circle around the image from the microscope lens. A circle is such an interesting shape because it represents both the infinitely small and the infinitely massive–like a cell or a planet.

Drawing under the microscope

Blinded by Whiteness

Saying Goodbye

Saying goodbye to new friends

Yesterday I found myself sitting in the shuttle bus looking out the window at whiteness. I turned to see my husband wipe the condensation off his side of the window to see better, but it remained as it was before. White. As I sat blindly gazing out at this alien world of white rushing past my window I was reminded of our arrival a month ago. It was snowing heavily and it was difficult to distinguish anything apart from swirling snow mounds of snow and blowing snow. This journey felt like being blindfolded and brought to a hidden and secret place so you don’t know how you got there. But instead of being blindfolded by darkness, we were blinded by whiteness. It’s about a half hour drive from Skagaströnd to the town of Blönduós, where the main bus stops that goes to and from Reykjavik. I have absolutely no clue what the landscape looks like between these two places. Not on the way there. Not on the way back. Somehow this makes me strangely happy.

It has been a full last week at the residency. This past Sunday was the January 2020 Opid Hus (Open House). It was a wonderful event and many local people came out for it. I had some lovely conversations with people about the work and about living in northern Iceland. One gentleman asked me an interesting question, “But what is it about whales that make people connect with them? Why not other animals? People don’t feel the same way about fish that they do about whales.” I guess this isn’t really something that I have thought much about before. Why whales? I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this question. I think there are many answers, but I think that people are drawn to things we can empathise with, things we reflect ourselves into, common struggles and successes, etc. Whales are mammals, like us. Whales breath air, like us. They generally have one baby at a time and their life cycles are very similar to human life cycles. They are intelligent and learn, they pass along information and have strong family bonds. Whales grieve their losses and seek to develop relational bonds. I think it is going to be different for every person that answers this question. But for me, it also has to do with knowing about something. They more I know, the more I connect. This is why I create art about these amazing animals. Sorry for the tangent. The Open House was lovely! I have some images below of some of the other artist’s in their spaces and my studio space at the end.

Images from the Opid Hus

Drawing class 

I was also asked if I would like to give a drawing class to a girl from the town. I was happy to be asked and enjoyed putting together some drawing projects. One of the artists at the residency came with her daughter and so I extended the invite to her as well. It was such an enjoyable afternoon. The young women were so dedicated to their art and it was a pleasure to be creative together. This was a real highlight for me and I am I had the opportunity to do this.

Natasha leading a drawing class

I traveled back south to Reykjavik with 6 of the other residents and 1 resident traveled north. We said good bye at the Blönduós bus stop and headed in opposite directions. Artist Katya Kan (Kazakhstan) traveled to Akureyri where she and I have an exhibition at the Art Ak Gallery this weekend! =) The perfect way to end my time here in Iceland.

BioPol, Lumpfish and Clouds

I have been in Skagastrond for three weeks now at the Nes Residency. I feel like my projects are starting to be picking up momentum. Since my purpous on this residency is to explore I have been allowing myself to create whatever I had the urge to make. I have ended up with some very strange creations that were not nessicarily what I would call
“successes”. But I feel like it is sometime nessisary to create unnessisary things. Even when I know from the beginning that it is probably not going to turn into something interesting. In the studio everything becomes connected. One thing leads to another and another and so on. Sometimes your brain needs to let go of the pressure of trying to force out a “good” idea and just become engaged in a process. Any process. I find that very often that when my mind in engaged in this way it is able to wander and that is when I find inspiration for new projects. I have been trying to be conscious of this and allowing myself this space and freedom.

Studio work in progress

Another way to find creative inspiration is through research. Earlier this week I had the privilege to meet with Mr. Halldór Ólafsson, founder of BioPol, a marine biotechnology company here in Skagastrond. BioPol is involved with a variety of projects studying marine life that live in the water in Húnaflói Bay. Industry in Skagaströnd has always revolved around the sea, but over the last few decades fishery after fishery has had to close their doors. BioPol’s goal is to find new ways of creating sustainable industry through the sea. It was fascinating to be shown around the facilities. There is even an experimental kitchen–something between a scientific laboratory and a chef’s day dreamy clean kitchen. Halldór showed me around the different rooms of microscopes, people in lab coats and specimen containers. One research project that they are working on is trying to discover the lifespan of lumpfish (Cyclopterus lumpus). What? You’ve never heard of the lumpfish before? Don’t feel bad if you haven’t, I hadn’t either.

Lumpfish, image from icefishnews.com

Lumpfish, image from icefishnews.com

Female lumpfish are caught commercially for their roe which is sold as caviar. Actually a pelagic fish (living in the open sea), these fish come into the bay annually to spawn. The males arrive first and seek out the best place for a nest, often in kelp forests. Later the much larger females arrive and choose the most attractive partner and nest. She lays her eggs and heads back out to sea, leaving dad to fiercely guard the nest and helping to circulate oxygen-rich water over the eggs. BioPol is trying to discover how long these fish live. To do this they are using a well known fish-aging process: counting the annual rings laid down on otoliths–like counting growth rings on a tree. An otolith is essentially an ear bone of a fish–acting similarly to our inner ear as it is used for balance.

Cod Otoliths at the BioPol lab, Skagastrond

Cod Otoliths at BioPol

Depending on the species otoliths come in a broad range of shapes and sizes. In this image on the right Halldór is holding a range of specimens from cod. This labour-intensive work of counting otoliths is difficult when it comes to lumpfish as they have particularly difficult rings to distinguish between. It is absolutely fascinating! Thank you so much to BioPol and Halldór for allowing me to come and see what you are doing. =)

Nacreous Clouds

Nacreous Clouds

While we are on the topic of learning and discovery, I just wanted to share one more thing with you. Yesterday as the winds of the current storm were beginning to pick up we spotted a strangely glowing cloud in the sky (centre in the image above). I have seen this a few times already since coming to Iceland. It is a rare nacreous cloud, also known as an “iridescent cloud” or a “mother-of-pearl cloud”. The cloud turns into a rainbow of colours as light passes through frozen waterdropplets, skattering the light.

 

Photos of Skagaströnd

Here is a little peek at the little town of Skagaströnd. The town population is around 400. There is a church, a gas station and a grocery store, a gym, an outdoor heated pool and “hot pot” (hot tub), a bank, a pharmacy, and a post office and the residency. Usually the only people I see outside are kids walking back and forth from school, unless it is a rare calm and clear day and then the town starts to buzz with activity! The towns’ economy is largely centered around fishing (which has fluctuated throughout the centuries). An idyllic setting nestled along a natural harbour at the base of towering Spákonufell  (Prophetess Mountain). The mountain is dedicated to the first woman of Skagaströnd that lived here in the 10th century. Apparently she has left a treasure chest hidden by a spell somewhere on the mountain. 

Storm

I have been at the Nes Artist Residency now for almost two weeks. It is only now dawning on me how lucky we were to have good weather when we arrived. I feel like since our arrival there has only been a handful of “calm” days between stormfronts. The weather is constantly changing here. Being an isolated island located somewhere between two massive continents along the most northern edge of the Atlantic Ocean it isn’t a wonder why storm follows storm follows storm. The roads have been closed most days it seams, cutting Skagastrond off from the rest of the country. The snow comes down swirling, spinning and blowing past in a fury of white. Sometimes the storms are predicted a day or two in advance. Sometimes they just come.

Two days ago I arrived at the studio to enjoy one of these rare “calm” moments. I gathered my watercolour supplies and a stool and headed out to the edge of the breakwater to paint and watch sunrise turn the sky pinkish around 11am. By 2pm the sky was thick with white and gale force winds were slamming into whatever stood in their way. The houses here are built especially solid to withstand the wind and yet the wind tries her best to test them. Creating noises that sound like the house is loosing. The storm lasted for approximately 20 hours. Not once did the wind take a breather or the snow stop falling. Blizzarding conditions. A complete whiteout at times. But where did it all go? The snow was sure on a hurry to get somewhere, but maybe not here. Oh yes, there are massive piles of it scattered throughout the town (often finding the perfect location in the middle of a path), but I can only imagine that the majority of the snow is stuck fast against the side of a mountain somewhere. That day the weather hit, we were in the studio. Eventually we decided we either had to sleep in the studio or brave the weather outside. Without any snow or ice or head winds I am sure this journey should only take two minutes to walk between. It was a battle. Jackets pulled up, hats pulled down and with scarves securely fastened around our faces, the three of us stepped from the warmth of the studio and into the dark forces. My husband, the lovely French artist Sandrine and myself locked arms and headed home. “All for one and one for all!” (And yes, you would be right in supposing that the book I brought along with me is The Three Musketeers). What an exhilarating experience! We were thankful to be home, to make dinner and to be able to sleep in our own beds. Sandrine mentioned when we were in the kitchen that evening that it feels like we are in an igloo–the windows were plastered with snow!

The storm is over now and there is again a certain calm over the town (although the wind waves are still high). There is nothing quite like weather to make you really feel like you are in the present.

Modern Icelandic Whaling and Sweaters

It is hard not think about whaling while being in Iceland. I was doing some research yesterday and discovered that some of the whaling vessels that hunt minke whales stay at port in Hafnarfjordur, a 10 minute walk from where we stayed at our Airbnb. There are two commercial whaling companies here. One company hunts minke whale and one hunts the endangered fin whale. Minke whale is what you can buy in restaurants and in the grocery stores here (no, I will not be partaking) and fin whale is exported and sold to Japanese markets. This past year though there was a temporary, year-long pause on whaling in Iceland, but it is set to begin again in the spring. The pause came because of a lack of demand for the meat. I was surprised to discover that actually very few Icelanders enjoying eating whale meat and the biggest market are the tourists that come here. It is marketed as an exotic delicacy and a “must try” while visiting the country. It is hard to see why the whaling industry continues though when the income generated by whale watching companies is significantly higher than selling theme for meat (and is much more sustainable). While researching I came across this recent documentary called Hard to Port about the current whaling situation in Iceland. It is worth watching if you are interested in this topic.

But how do I process this….

While listening to these documentaries I was thinking about a recent series I made this winter of whales in Christmas sweaters. I was speaking with a gentleman who was looking at them and he said something that stuck with me. By clothing these whales he felt like they were being cared for or nurtured. Forgive me if I am sounding sappy, but I love it when someone makes me a homemade gift like a hat or scarf. These gifts keep me warm on the outside as well as on the inside because I know they take a lot of time and care to make. So I created this small watercolour of a minke whale and a fin whale wearing iconic Icelandic sweaters. I am planning on making two more similar drawings. One for each of the three countries that still continue to practice commercial whaling (Iceland, Norway and Japan).

Whales wearing sweaters… huh… I think might possibly be my most political work yet.

Icelandic Whales in Lopapeysa

The upper whale in this drawing is a minke whale and the lower whales is a fin whale. Fin whales are still considered endangered. They are the second largest animal in existence (only loosing out on the champion title to the blue whale).  This drawing shows the size difference between the two species. 

8.5″ x 11″, ink and watercolour on rag paper 

NES Artist Residency January 2020 Group

Today we gave artist talks as a group. It was amazing how different and interesting everyone’s practice is. I thought I would just quickly share this group photo. We are six artists and represent six different countries!

NES Artist Residency January 2020 Group Photo .jpg

 

Left to right: Sakari Heikka (Musician from Finland), Indigo Perry (writer from Australia), Sineád Bhreathnach-Cashell (visual artist from Ireland), Sandrine Elberg (photographer from France), Katya Kan (visual artist from Kazakhstan), Natasha van Netten (visual artist from Canada)

Settling In

Today is the forth day that we have been in Skagaströnd and I think I am starting get more used to the way things work here. For example: going outside. It’s not as easy as I used to think. To go outside requires: long johns, pants, base layer and a sweater or two, then rain paints, scarf, bulky winter coat, hiking shoes, crampons for the ice, gloves and toque. So, as you can imagine it is a process to go outside. And coming in is harder because everything is covered in snow or rain. In Victoria I would consider this a lengthy ceremony, but here it’s not a big deal. It’s just part of life. But I still don’t think I understand the lack of daylight. Since coming here I have been having trouble sleeping. The first few nights I thought it was because the wind was incredibly loud. The next night I blamed it on the fact that there was not any wind at all. The strangest thing that I can’t figure out is that despite the lack of sleep, when I wake up in the morning I feel rested. All day long I feel good. In fact it is difficult to go to bed because I simply don’t feel tired. I think it must have something to do with the excess of darkness… but I am not sure why.

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Things are going well in the studio. Well, they are really just getting started so maybe it is hard to say how it is going. But I am enjoying it and finding that ideas are coming. During my time here I am focusing on experimentation and “play”. Yesterday I was finally able to collect some seawater by carefully climbing down a breakwater because the sea was relatively calm. We were also able to walk out of town along the beach to see what has been washing on shore. There was lots of seaweeds and a few shells, like barnacle and clam, a starfish and a recently eaten sea urchin. I brought back a couple shells and a holdfast to draw in the studio but they smell incredibly strong, so I have decided to rinse them and leave them outside for the time being. Maybe I will have to brave the cold and draw them outside. We will see.
It is just after 4pm and I will be heading back to the residency house soon because a storm is possibly coming around 8pm. We were going to have artist talks tomorrow but that has been postponed in case it is too difficult to go outside tomorrow. So I will wrap up this post now and collect some supplies in case I will be working inside tomorrow. I will let you know how it goes in my next post. 😉
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