Archive for the 'storytelling' Category

Digging Deep.

I’ve been undergoing a bit of a transformation lately.  And what I’ve learned is this: change is messy.  In that line between the before and after photo, therein lives chaos.

So, like seemingly everyone else around me, I’ve become mildly obsessed with (or possessed by) Marie Kondo and her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

I admit it.  I’ll see those picture-perfect homes online, with their styled bookshelves and immaculately made beds, and I’ll want to move in.  I have a vision for the kind of life I want to live and, for awhile there, I’d sit at my desk and not see anything remotely like it.

I used to think open shelving would be perfect in my studio.  I’d create all these lovely little tableaus and everything would be carefully considered and artfully styled just so.  But it didn’t turn out that way.  My beautiful open shelves were quickly overwhelmed with sloppy stacks of books and unread magazines and ugly plastic bins overflowing with paper, bursting and poking out all over the edges.  While I create things to be seen and experienced, the birthplace of those things isn’t always pretty.  Nor does it have to be.  My sweet home-based studio is supposed to be a safe space for creative chaos and I’ve since learned that sometimes the process is better left behind closed doors (read: buy cabinets!).

After enduring weeks of total mayhem (trudging through the tediousness of unearthing and discarding all the joyless things I’d hoarded, while simultaneously berating myself for letting this happen and hating Marie Kondo for inciting this awesome-slash-terrible disaster of a process), I’ve since discovered peace.  Now I love my office space.  I wake up earlier, I’m back to writing daily and I’d even been able to make a few collages again — something I hadn’t done or even felt inspired to do in a really long time.

On that note, I’ll leave with you some photos I’d recently rediscovered from a writing retreat I went to a few years back.  I’ve always wanted to recreate the quiet magic I’d felt on that trip here at home and now I think I just might be able to.









Brooklyn-bound… and Back – Part 3


While in NYC, we stayed with my lovely childhood friend Suzy and her family.  They were living in Toronto previously but moved to Park Slope in Brooklyn ’bout a year and a half ago.

Back when Suzy was getting ready for the big move, I peppered her with questions about everything.  The visa process.  Moving costs.  Living costs.  The whole 9.

While still happy and comfortable in Toronto, I dreamed of New York.


Aside from the sketchbook tour, we only had a few plans.  At just 4 days, ’twas a short one and I didn’t want to stress out by having too much on our plate.  So we mostly just went with whatever.

We enjoyed some great eats (at Talde, Parish Hall, and Sky Ice) and also went to the Brooklyn Flea — all of which I’d highly recommend.

We also checked out Sleep No More — which was amazing.  (And if I could give just one bit of advice, wear comfortable shoes and do NOT read anything about it.  At all.  Except maybe a Cliff Notes book on Macbeth.  But seriously — the less you know, the better.  Admittedly, the show has been running for a while so there’s tons of info out there — but if I could do it all over again, I’d go in knowing nothing.  Nada.  Zip!)




One thing I realized early in our trip was that this was my first time visiting the big city while living in another big city.  Coming from Edmonton or Victoria, the difference is stark.  But coming from Toronto… this was different.

We already have art and artists and street noise and music and great food and culture and things to do every night of the week.  I’ve been here 10 years already and am still just scratching at the surface.

Of course, there is a vibrancy of spirit in New York that is unparalleled.

But Toronto is pretty awesome too.

And in real terms, the amount we pay for our house essentially would get us a teeny-tiny studio far out in the boroughs.  So there’s that too.


Anyway, near the end of our trip, Suzy asked if New York was still on our radar.  And I paused.


If we could afford to “do it right” in NYC, I’d still move there in a heartbeat.  But if and until that happens… I’m actually pretty happy, right now, right here in Toronto.


I’ve been thinking a lot about what this trip has meant for my relationship with  NYC and for our future together.  I’ve held on to the dream of living there for so long; I no longer know if it’s passion or habit.

But the one thing I do know, if it weren’t for New York, I wouldn’t be where I am today.  Living in a big city, doing work I love to do.

And for that reason alone, big and beautiful New York City, a part of me will always be yours for the taking.



Brooklyn-bound… and Back – Part 2



The Sketchbook Project 2013 Tour kicked off this past Friday, at the Brooklyn Art Library.

When we arrived, the place was jammed.  It was full with people.  And the walls lined entirely with sketchbooks.




I felt overwhelmed at first.  I didn’t know what to do: get a library card, take photos, or just touch everything.  I mean, c’mon — look at all those books!

Luckily, someone had the wherewithal to corral us together and that’s when Husbo snapped this photo (that’s me with my niece and co-collaborator, Sol):



There was a lot to see and I was keen to get started.  So we got ourselves some library cards and went at it.



The above two illustrations are from a book that was attributed to “YLHS Artists” from Yorba Linda, CA.






Unfortunately, I didn’t get the name of the artist who did the amazingly detailed pen drawings in the third photo — but if anyone knows, holla!



I only caught a glimpse but instantly loved this sketchbook by Steph Nelson from San Francisco, CA — it featured well-known masterpieces but made better with cats!

It was returned before I could flip through it myself but I’ll definitely remember to check it out when the tour comes to Toronto.




I caught Tania, Sol’s mama, looking through our book.  I think she liked it a lot (though she may be biased).



I also checked out Pam’s book.  Here’s Husbo reading it with our nephew, Dryden.




Sol and her pal Darla went through a whole whack of great books together.  I managed to sneak a peek at this one by Maury Tieman from Austin, TX.  I loved the cut-out keyhole and it also included a fold-out map!


We stayed so long looking at books that we shut the place down.

If I lived closer, I’m pretty sure I’d be there every day, happily combing my way through the stacks.

But in the meantime, I’ll just sit on my hands and count the days until the tour comes to Toronto.


Only 93 to go.


Brooklyn-bound… and Back – Part 1

So the Sketchbook Project 2013 tour has officially begun and I’m so happy that we were able to see it all kick off.




We left Toronto under gloomy grey skies.  And then rose above to one that was a brilliant blue…



…on our way to New York City.



I became a photographer because of New York City.

When we first met in 2000, I fell in love.  And I know you know what I mean.  It’s a special place.

At the time, photography was something I already loved but, after New York, it became a dream.  New York City showed me what was possible and, after that fateful trip, I never looked back.


Even in 2003, when I made the cross-country odyssey from Victoria to Toronto, it was New York that pulled me eastward.  Toronto was supposed to be a pit stop.


Given all this, it’s surprising that I haven’t been back in 10 years.  It’s a super-short plane ride from Toronto and just 8 hours by car.  In the same amount of time, one can reach Edmonton from Saskatoon and for many, that’s an easy long weekend.


But as the date of our trip loomed closer, I felt myself not wanting to go.  What if I fell in love all over again, casting my current life in Toronto as second-rate, a compromise that I’ve settled for out of complacency?


Ready or not, I was about to find out.


The Sketchbook Project 2013

Last July, my friend Pam invited me to an exhibition at the Gladstone Hotel.

As she explained the premise, my simple brain only heard:





The place was packed and there were people everywhere: standing in circles, gathered ’round tables, sitting on the floor.  All looking at sketchbooks.

Some books were clad in what I assumed was their original brown craft covers.  But there were plenty others.  One was thick and swaddled in periwinkle blue velvet.  Another was green and furry like a Muppet.


I have a 10-year old niece who loves glitter glue too.  I thought, she has to see this.


The Sketchbook Project, as I later learned it was called, is a traveling library of artists’ books created by thousands of people from all over the world.

And it was in Toronto for the one weekend only.


There were thousands of books, each different from the next.  I wanted to see them all.

I tried rapid check-outs, peeked over shoulders, talked with strangers, even sneaked a few quick flips through books in the box initially labelled “return books here” but with the later addition of “don’t touch please”.


We went on Friday and I brought my niece on the Sunday.  I remembered a few of my favourites* and checked them out again so she could see them.  She thought they were pretty cool.


On a lark, I asked her if she’d like to make one with me for next year’s tour.  She said yes!  So, we signed ourselves up and took home our brand-new, pristine sketchbook.

A label with both our names was printed on the back.  Her last name was cut short and it flicked off the tongue like a familiar nickname.  I watched her try it on for size.


The sketchbook came with its own sleeping bag.


For the following several months, we quietly and steadily worked away on our little project together.

In addition to our many “crafting” dates and field trips, we talked on the phone, we emailed, we FaceTime’d and discussed ideas.  It ended up being completely different from what we’d originally planned but I think we both learned to enjoy the process — and the surprise — of seeing the book slowly evolve and emerge.

Of course, neither of us had much skill, expertise or endurance to draw upon (she’s 10 and I’m a total amateur), so it definitely bears the clumsy marks of inexperience.

But in the end, we finished it and were pretty happy with it so that’s that.


One time, as we worked on the book, my niece said to me:

Wouldn’t it be cool to be in Brooklyn when the tour starts?

Yeah, it would be.

We should go.


I didn’t think we would go.

But as it happens, the tour starts on Friday.  And we are going to be there.


Pam also submitted a book.  It’s beautiful and she wrote a blog post about it here.


I didn’t take many in-progress shots but here are a few snaps I posted on Instagram:

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For those of you not in Brooklyn this weekend, don’t fret: the tour hits 7 other cities, including a return to the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto, June 7 – 9, 2013.


*Speaking of favourites, one I loved was “bits and bobs” by Rachel Vater.  It tells a whimsical story entirely with cut-paper.  It’s in their digital library so you can see it here but the scans, unsurprisingly, don’t do it justice — it must be seen in person to be fully appreciated.


A return to Georgian Bay.

I know I haven’t been an A+ blogger lately.

I’m going to say that all this heat has baked my brain but, really, the truth is that I don’t have air conditioning in my office.  Though I guess that’s kinda the same.  Two sides of the same coin kinda bag.  No matter, I’m sticking with it.

Sitting in one’s east-facing office, without any kind of cooling mechanism to speak of, in front of a heat-generating computer, with all of your hot-as-heck hard drives blowing heat in your already blotchy and red face isn’t fun, let me tell you.

So, I’m packing up and heading north.  But just for a few days.

It’s unintentionally become a sorta annual thing.  It’s a silent writing retreat on Georgian Bay, facilitated by the amazing and awesome Chris Kay Fraser.  I’ve been every summer for the last two, making this trip my third.

Basically, your days are like this.  You wake up, do whatever you want, hopefully manage to wrestle some words on a page / laptop / napkin-if-you’re-desperate and, when the time of silence is nearing to a close (which officially happens at 3pm) the scent of freshly-baked cookies will come wafting on a breeze.  At 3, Chris will ring a brass bell on the cottage porch where everyone will gather and share their day so far.  Then there’s dinner and some group writing-workshop-y stuff in the evening and then bed.  It’s all very relaxed, peaceful, supportive and all-around wonderfulness.  Oh and did I mention there’s a canoe?

Anyway, it’s a little gift that I give myself and hopefully it will yield some stories for me to share with you one day.

In the meantime, here’s a little ditty of a slideshow that I made from the first time I went, in 2009.  And here’s the itty bitty blog post from when I returned last year.

Wish I could tell you what to expect when I come back but, like it’s been for the last two years, even I will be surprised.


Georgian Bay.  June, 2010.

An incomplete story about Jeans.

People often ask how we came up with the name “Jeans.” And I wish I could remember.

The thing is.  Husbo and I make up new words, catchphrases and nicknames daily.  It’s like we’ve created our own secret language.  Made up with inside jokes, riffs on said inside jokes, followed with riffs on said riffs.

So trying to discover the origins of “Jeans” would be like trying to find which tendril of a root is responsible for a very specific leaf.  On a big tree.

We think it started back in 2004, with: “How funny would it be to have a dog named ‘Dug?'”  Back when we didn’t even want a dog.  We just wanted the fun of coming up with funny dog names.


We brought Jeans home on June 30th, 2010.  Just a coupla’ weeks after we’d found her.


These photos were taken February 23rd, 2010.


Anyway.  Obviously we were crazy wannabe dog parents back then.

But now that we have Jeans, we’re just crazy dog parents.


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