Tag Archives | graffiti

An (im)permanent goodbye to Ottawa

I’ve lived in Ottawa for nearly ten years. I came for work—government, obviously—and am now leaving for work (albeit R’s, not mine). We didn’t think we’d be in Ottawa for very long, maybe a year or two, tops. But as our respective career paths (and locations) diverged and converged and twisted and turned, Ottawa became our home base. It was the one constant in all those years (the California years, the Montreal years…), and it really did grow on us once we let it. We came to love its quiet, its green space, its community feel. Even the brutalist architecture grew on us. And once we decided to let ourselves get attached to this place, we made some really really amazing friends.

All the big things that have happened on my mosaic adventure so far have happened while I’ve been in Ottawa, so I decided that before I left, I wanted to leave my mosaic mark on the city in some way. For me, the choice of where and what was easy: I would do it at the graffiti wall with pieces of the graffiti wall. This was a no-brainer for all sorts of reasons. First, it would be legal. This was important, because I’m quite risk averse and law abiding! Second, this wall was the source of one of my favourite and most prized materials, and this material (and one of the first pieces I made from it) was a real game-changer for me and has played an important role in my growth as a mosaicist. And finally, the wall was three blocks from our apartment, so it was on my home turf, which felt appropriate.

Daddy supervising the installation

Daddy supervising the installation

I made this little mosaic with materials sourced from the few blocks around where we lived: graffiti paint (obviously!), a broken pot from the end of the block, cement parging from around the corner, and flakes from a landscaping rock. I was originally also going to include broken windshield from the street that always has cars getting their windows broken, but it just didn’t work for me—glass just isn’t my jam.

graffiti wall installation - with paint can

“Farewell Ottawa” guerilla mosaic installation at the legal graffiti wall at Albert and Bronson (September 3, 2016)

When I went to scout out a spot on the wall to install this, I found myself wanting to tuck it away in a corner where it would be protected. I really had to fight that urge and put it right out in the open, knowing full well it wouldn’t last for long. It had to be part of the dynamic landscape of the graffiti wall. As a mosaicist, I work in a medium whose durability is one of its hallmarks. Diving into the world of the impermanent was very foreign to me.

Six hours later and already the landscape has shifted

Six hours later and already the landscape has shifted (my piece is there by the step, in amongst the cans of spray paint)

I’m very curious to know how long this will last on the wall, and what will do it in. Will it be the elements? Animals (it is a dog park, after all)? Or artists? I will likely never know, and I am (somewhat reluctantly) embracing that unknown, just like I am having to embrace the unknown of moving to a different city and leaving my job behind.

End of day 1 and already there are flecks of paint on the surrounding thinset and outer tesserae from an artist working above

End of day 1 and already there are flecks of paint on the surrounding thinset and outer tesserae from an artist working above

In addition to being a fond farewell to Ottawa, this little mosaic is also a thank you to the very talented artists whose short-lived works contribute so much to my more permanent ones. Without the constant churn of art on that graffiti wall, this most special of materials wouldn’t exist.

This material never ceases to thrill me.

This material never ceases to thrill me.

While my leaving Ottawa is most likely permanent, the mark I am leaving behind is impermanent, which is a good reminder to me, as someone who thrives on stability and routine, to be more like one of my mosaics and just go with the flow.

So long, Ottawa! I’ll miss you. And Kitchener, I’ll be seeing you soon.

graffiti wall installation - in context

In context, shortly after the installation. By afternoon, that mural would be replaced by another.

5

Putting it out there: Lessons learned from my first solo show

I have recently opened my first solo show and given my first Artist Talk. For those of you in the Toronto area, you still have lots of time to go see it—it’s hanging at Evergreen Brick Works until March 6. It feels weird to say this, but this is very likely the only time these ten mosaics will all be hanging together, ever, because three are already set to go off to their forever homes after the show is over.

I feel extremely lucky to have found such a wonderful place to show my work. Not only is Brick Works an amazing place to explore in and of itself (it’s an old brick factory and quarry, teeming with old industrial infrastructure and graffiti, that has been turned into a community environmental space), but the alignment of its mandate and my climate change mosaics is perfect. Even more perfect is the timing of the show, which was intentionally scheduled to coincide with the big international climate change negotiations (COP21) that are about to get underway in Paris in just a few days. There is a city-wide art festival—ArtCOP21—set to take place in Paris during the talks, and there are also satellite events all over the world. I am proud to say that my show is part of that global movement. (Below are just a few photos of Brick Works itself, to pique your interest.)

I have learned an enormous amount going through the whole process of launching this show. In the event that this is helpful for anyone else who’s at the same point in their journey as me, I thought I’d share some of these lessons learned here on the blog.

1 – You need endurance in spades

When I first decided that it would be amazing to do a show of my climate change mosaics in conjunction with COP21, I had two mosaics done and just under eight months to do the rest (I envisioned a line-up of ten mosaics). Having only evenings and weekends to work, I already knew that averaging one mosaic per month was ambitious. But the timing was too tempting, so I decided to throw myself into it head first. I will be the first to admit that the pace for the next months was punishing. As I was working on one piece, I was not just thinking ahead to the next steps of that particular mosaic, but also mentally writing the associated blog post as I worked AND sketching out the next piece in my head. By the time I reached the halfway point, I felt like I was approaching burnout. Social obligations that took me away from the studio made me anxious—all I could think about was the work that I wasn’t doing. But your body and mind have a way of getting what they need. A planned working holiday at the cottage ended up being more relaxation holiday than working holiday, which, despite feeling a bit panicked by my lack of productivity, ended up being exactly what I needed in order to go back to work refreshed and focused. And when I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel (around the eighth or ninth mosaic), I could feel my drive seriously flagging. I spent an entire Friday night on the couch with Dexter, binging on Netflix because, as I rationalized to myself, he was being sucky. In truth, I was the sucky one. But again, I needed that night of nothing. All of this to say: be prepared to work hard and know that it will take a physical, emotional, and mental toll, but listen to your body and your mind.

If you need a night or a week of nothing, try not to feel (too) guilty. Pictured here is what my week at the cottage consisted mainly of: hammock time.

If you need a night or a week of nothing, try not to feel (too) guilty. Pictured here is what my week at the cottage consisted mainly of: hammock time.

2 – You are not doing this alone

While those long hours in the studio are a solitary endeavour, rest assured that you are surrounded by people who want nothing more than to see you succeed. Let them give you a push when you’re dragging, reassure you when you’re doubting, distract you when you’re going squirrelly, forgive you when you’re snippy, and champion you out in the world when you’d rather just curl up in a ball. Accept help when it’s offered (seriously, don’t feel guilty about it—people only offer if they genuinely mean it) and ask for help when you need it. I reached out on occasion to mosaic friends who have walked this path many times before and asked to pick their brains about one thing or another. While I probably could have googled the answers to my questions (or gone with my gut instinct, or problem-solved on the fly), what it gave me was peace of mind from a trusted source, because, let’s be honest, how many times has the internet led us astray or at least sent us down the rabbit hole, wasting precious time?

3 – You might as well aim high

When I was first trying to find an environmental organization to partner with for the show, I was specifically looking for a small community-based organization (as opposed to a more high-profile organization), because this was my first show and that felt appropriate and safe. But when it seemed like the initial interest from one such organization was starting to wane, I decided I needed a Plan B. So on a whim, I emailed my dream location / partner. Imagine my surprise when Brick Works said yes! While a “no” might sting for a moment, the possibility of that momentary disappointment is totally worth it on the off chance that a huge “YES” might come your way. So why not aim high? There’s no harm in asking for what you want, even if you don’t think you’re ready for it.

I never ever thought I'd be showing my work in such an amazing place. (It is truly an oasis in the heart of the city, just check out these walking trails out back!)

I never ever thought I’d be showing my work in such an amazing place. (It is truly an oasis in the heart of the city, just check out these walking trails out back!)

4 – Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions

I was at a bit of a disadvantage going into the show, because I had never visited Brick Works, so I was walking in blind. (To her credit, R really really tried to convince me to take a weekend to go visit the space beforehand, but I honestly didn’t have a weekend to spare—I was working right down to the wire.) So, I had to ask a lot of questions to try to situate myself (and also because it was my first time feeling my way through this whole process). Most of the time I felt like I was being pretty annoying, pestering them with so many questions and asking for clarification when things were a bit fuzzy, but it had to be done.

Don’t feel bad about asking questions. It’s better to have the information you need in advance than to have several surprises at the last minute (although there will inevitably be those unpleasant surprises). For non-traditional venues in particular, make sure you ask questions about things like access to the space, supervision, and any other activities that will take place where your work is being displayed. And if, in this process, something doesn’t feel right, speak up. If there’s one lesson that was the hardest for me to learn during this whole experience, it was that I needed to stick up for myself because nobody else was going to do it for me.

My mosaics chilling with some apples at the Saturday market. (See? This is why I say ask about access.)

My mosaics chilling with some apples at the Saturday market. (See? This is why I say ask about access.)

My mosaics look on as one of the Chocosol guys whips up some Mexican drinking chocolate.

My mosaics look on as one of the Chocosol guys whips up some Mexican drinking chocolate at the Sunday market.

5 – Lists and timelines are your friends

My fellow list-makers will think this one’s a no-brainer, but I think it deserves to be mentioned. When I was a little less than halfway there, I decided I should make myself a timeline. It did two things: it scared the shit out of me because it made things very real in terms of how little time I had and how quickly I had to work, but it also comforted me because even though time was short, I could see that it was doable if I worked smart and worked hard. On the days when I didn’t feel like working at all, it kept me accountable; and when I managed to finish a piece ahead of time, it gave me a huge feeling of satisfaction (and those little wins were so important in maintaining my motivation). And at the end, when the mosaic work was done but the logistical / administrative work was ramping up, lists kept me sane. By that point I was frazzled and emotional—I think I freaked R out on more than one occasion because it’s rare for her to see me like that—so making lists was comforting and reassured me that something wouldn’t get accidentally forgotten (even if I made the same list three times in three different places).

6 – Have a plan, but be ready to adjust on the fly

As much as you try to plan ahead, at least one thing (and most likely many things) will go wrong. Take it in stride and adjust. For example, I went in with a really good idea of where I wanted to hang my mosaics based on the wall measurements I had been sent. I had scale drawings and everything—my graph paper and I had a hot date one Saturday night. But when I saw the lighting situation, I immediately knew that I would have to scrap that plan, and I can honestly say that the new configuration is probably better than my original one would have been (even without factoring in the lighting).

The layout in the Foreman's Shed

The final layout in the Foreman’s Shed

7 – Pick your battles

Not only will there will be unanticipated problems that you’ll have to solve, but there will also be things that you’ll just have to accept as imperfect. This will help you stay (relatively) sane and will help you make good use of the time you have. I quickly learned that I had to be quite firm with myself and with others about those things that I was going to let go and choose to not get upset about. As mentioned in #2 above, chances are that if you’re embarking on an undertaking like this, you are surrounded by lots of fantastic people who are genuinely invested in your success, so when a wrench gets thrown into the works, they will get outraged on your behalf. They will want to find a solution, or push you to find a solution. This, sometimes, will cause you stress, which is why I’m saying it’s a good idea to know what you’re willing to fight for and what you’re willing to let slide, and then clearly communicate to your circle of cheerleaders and champions when you’ve decided that something is not worth getting worked up about.

8 – When it comes to hanging, trust the interwebs and do the math

I hung one wall of my show three times. Thankfully it was just using S hooks, so it was easy to adjust and I wasn’t wasting anyone’s time but my own. I knew, thanks to Google, that I should be hanging it so the centres of the mosaics were somewhere around 56″ to 58″. But at 5’10”, it felt really really low, so I hung it at 63″ and immediately regretted it. For those of you who are not of average height, trust the collective wisdom of the interwebs. I also messed up the calculation for how much space to leave between the pieces so they’d be evenly spaced on the wall…twice. By the time I got all the measurements—horizontal and vertical—right, I had hung the wall three times and had wasted at least an hour. So, trust Google and also take the time to do the math right the first time.

Also, know how much space you have and how much you need. When I was told which wall my mosaics would be hanging on, I thought, “Great! Thanks!” and didn’t give it any more thought. But then a few days later, I came to the realization that the wall was 14′ wide and if I lined up all my mosaics side by side with no spaces between them, they were almost exactly 14′ wide too. Eek! So I highly suggest knowing how much space you need in order to hang your work properly and then going from there (e.g., by adjusting spacing, revisiting your line-up, negotiating more hanging space, etc.).

Measure, measure, and then measure again.

Measure, measure, and then measure again. (Photo courtesy of Liz George, Evergreen Brick Works)

Figuring out the spacing in the Foreman's Shed.

Figuring out the spacing in the Foreman’s Shed. (Photo courtesy of Liz George, Evergreen Brick Works.)

9 – It feels very weird when it’s all over

When I got back home, it felt very strange to have so much time on my hands and to see the walls of my apartment bare. (With very limited space, I basically have to store all my mosaics on our walls.) As a wise friend assured me, this is completely normal and the best solution is just to get right back to work. Another friend advised me to be gentle with myself. I plan on doing both of those things: I have the perfect (non-climate) project to ease myself back into it. And after that, stay tuned, because the Fiddling While Rome Burns series isn’t over yet—I’ve got lots more to say about climate change, and I’m planning on turning my attention to exploring solutions and actions over the next little while. I hope you’ll join me on this next phase of the journey.

Thank you to everyone who cheered me on and/or helped make this possible. Stay tuned...

Thank you to everyone who cheered me on and/or helped make this possible. Stay tuned…

0

It’s “very likely” that communicating about climate change is challenging

Communicating about climate change is tricky, no doubt about it. Not only is it a complicated issue, with plenty of risks and impacts (many of which are quite regionally specific), oodles of underlying science, and a wide range of possible actions, there’s also the complexity of the contentious political layer that inevitably gets added to the mix. It certainly isn’t a straight-forward conversation.

Those interested in advancing this issue—be they environmentalists, business leaders, scientists, policy makers, concerned citizens, or others—have generally come to the conclusion that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to communicating climate change. Instead, it’s all about knowing your audience, their motivations, and what resonates with them. For instance, we know that negative messaging (of the “We’re totally screwed!” variety) is, on the whole, ineffective. It runs the risk of desensitizing people and/or causing them to throw up their hands in defeat. Likewise, most people aren’t motivated to act out of a sense of altruism or even for the sake of their children or grandchildren; rather, you’re much more likely to convince them to take action if you link it to something more tangible and immediate, like their health, their wallet, or their competitive spirit (e.g., that one-upsmanship that’s driving Californians to rip up their lawns and install drought-tolerant gardens in order to show their neighbours up, or how people silently take note, one eyebrow raised disapprovingly, of who doesn’t put out their recycling and organics bin on garbage day).

Speaking purely anecdotally, on more than one occasion (and much to my annoyance), I’ve heard people pass the buck, saying that scientists haven’t done a good job conveying the climate change message—“Well I would’ve done something, but the scientists, they just didn’t communicate it properly!” It feels like a pretty lame excuse to maintain the status quo. Scientists are scientists. They do science. Yes, there are those who are also expert communicators, like David Suzuki, Jane Goodall, Bill Nye, and others, but, by and large, I’m happy for them to concentrate on the science. It’s not like they expect us to be quantum physicists, cardiologists, or organic chemists, so let’s not expect them to be wordsmiths and orators.

bennett - now playingHere’s the thing: We all need to take responsibility, for both delivering the message and receiving the message. Yes, we could almost certainly find a more effective way to communicate climate change, even with all its science and impacts and potential solutions. If marketers can manage to convince people that they need monthly subscriptions for things like novelty watches, vegetable peelers, or 18-month wall calendars, I’m pretty sure that it’s possible to convince people to take action on climate change. BUT—and this is a big and essential but—the public also has to do its part. We can’t whine about it being too complicated or hard to understand and stick our heads in the sand just because we don’t like what the weighty reality of the message implies. We need to step up, do the work to make sense of the issue (rather than retreating to our kitten memes and celebrity gossip), and then act on that information. It’s a two-way street, folks, and nobody is without responsibility. Hence the title of this piece: “Dialogue (The burden of the message).”

The inspiration for this mosaic was a study that examined the gap between what scientists mean and what the public interprets. Every few years, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change puts out what are known as Assessment Reports. Thousands of scientists volunteer their time for this undertaking, where they comb through the scientific literature and synthesize it into a series of reports focused on the physical science of climate change, the impacts, and the mitigation options. The scientists assign the various findings that come out of this roll-up exercise with a rating that indicates how certain they are about each one (i.e., how settled the science is). For example, take this finding from the synthesis report: “It is virtually certain that there will be more frequent hot and fewer cold temperature extremes over most land areas on daily and seasonal timescales, as global mean surface temperature increases. It is very likely that heat waves will occur with a higher frequency and longer duration” (my emphasis). When IPCC scientists say “virtually certain” they mean they’re at least 99% sure, and for “very likely” there’s a likelihood of 90% or greater. But when the general public hears these verbal expressions of confidence, they tend to underestimate in cases where scientists are certain (and, oddly enough, overestimate certainty where scientists are less sure or the impacts are less likely). For example, while for IPCC scientists “very likely” means 90%-100% likelihood, people interpret this as more in the range of 50% to 90%. Takeaway message: communicating the science of climate change is hard because people’s baggage sways their interpretation and all too often things get lost in translation.

"Dialogue (The burden of the message)" mosaic by Julie Sperling - communicating climate change

“Dialogue (The burden of the message)” (2015), 17.25″ x 24.5″ — layered spray paint tesserae and rocks

This mosaic is a visual representation of the “very likely” rating and the corresponding public interpretation of it. In the main grouping there are 11 lines, each with exactly 100 tesserae, to represent the 90% to 100% certainty range—the layers of spray paint are the certain parts, the rocks the uncertain. And then slightly offset at the bottom is a 12th line (or a footnote, as R likes to refer to it) that’s 50% stone, to represent the lower end of the public interpretation of the “very likely” rating.

Angle view of "Dialogue (The burden of the message)" mosaic by Julie Sperling

All materials for this piece were sourced from within a 400m radius of my apartment

I was so happy when I landed on the idea of using layers of spray paint—fallen from a local graffiti wall—as the main material for this piece. Not only because it was so much fun (and different) to work with as I snipped and ripped and shaved it, but also because it feels entirely appropriate for two reasons. First (and directly linked to the study in question), because the IPCC assessment reports are a synthesis of heaps of individual scientific studies. (Plus, you have to admit, there is something kind of bookish about how the paint layers look in the mosaic). But more importantly, the graffiti paint is fitting because at its most essential it is layers upon layers of meanings and messages, which makes it a great material for talking about communication and dialogue.

Let's take a closer look at those layers, shall we?

Let’s take a closer look at those layers, shall we?

A commenter on Instagram said the paint layers were like fordite's edgier cousin---a comparison that I absolutely adore!

A commenter on Instagram said the paint layers were like fordite’s edgier cousin—a comparison that I absolutely adore!

So, to recap: Communicating about climate change is no small feat, but let’s not use scientists as our scapegoats for inaction. The onus is on both the messenger AND the recipient to transmit and interpret our considerable knowledge about what’s happening with the climate and then act responsibly and not turn a blind eye.

Detail of "Dialogue (The burden of the message)" mosaic by Julie Sperling

Spray paint tesserae and rocks, tilting to and fro…

6

Mosaic workout challenge, week 7: Home

Man, these theme challenges appear to be my Achilles heel! Give me technical or materials-based challenges any day. When I saw the theme for this week—Home—my initial thought was “Awwww fiddlesticks” (well, in all honesty, it might have been just a wee bit cruder than that). So many possibilities. So much thinking to do. Needless to say, I was paralyzed for several days, but in the end it all came together (somehow!). Anyway, let’s get to the show and tell!

"Home range" -- layered spray paint, marble, tile

“Home range” — layered spray paint, marble, tile

Title: “Home range”

Size: 6″ x 6″

Materials: Layered paint from a local Ottawa graffiti wall, marble, scavenged tile that had fallen off a shop front in Kensington Market (Toronto, ON)

How long did it take to complete? Far longer than it should have (5 hours?), considering a big portion of it is one piece is layered paint.

Thoughts: I continue to struggle with the themed challenges, and while I’d like to think that by the end I will have gotten at least a bit more comfortable with them, I fear I may only improve my ability to BS my way through them… This week’s mosaic is the product of a series of very tenuously linked thoughts and a few happy accidents. My initial idea was to use building materials like brick, glass, and maybe some nails or something. But I had already used brick in a few earlier challenges and it kind of felt like taking the easy way out. So I turned my mind to the more abstract, touchy-feely meanings of “home.” Lots of ideas, but no clue how to turn those into something tangible (on a 6″ x 6″ substrate, no less!).

Eventually I started thinking about how “home” has so many layers of meaning to it. It’s different for everyone and our notion of “home” often changes over time. Somehow, my mind then jumped from layers of meaning to physical layers, and I started thinking of the layers of paint that must build up over time as houses change owners and owners change their personal tastes and styles. This reminded me that I had some chunks of layered spray paint that I picked up at the local graffiti wall—remnants of artworks past. Perfect, I had my main material! While cutting it up into tesserae (used for the ‘clouds’ of this mosaic), I was really drawn to the rough jagged edges of the paint chunks. When I set one of the edges on my board to contemplate it, I noticed that it looked a bit like a mountain range, and thus “Home range” was born. So, through many twists and turns, I finally created what “home” means to me—it’s not just my dwelling, but also the landscape I inhabit and the spaces I move through. And this concept is where the name of the piece comes from, as a “home range”, in ecological terms, is an area in which an animal lives and travels.

A close-up of the tesserae I cut out of the slab of layered spray paint

A close-up of the tesserae I cut out of the slab of layered spray paint

Check out the rugged edge of the slab o' paint!

Check out the rugged edge of the slab o’ paint!

6

Running on fumes: The push to finish “Punctuated Equilibrium II”

The second mosaic in my Punctuated Equilibrium series was created during the holiday rush, which also coincided with a crazy busy time at work. My intention was to get it finished before the New Year in order to start 2014 with a clean slate, but I didn’t meet my self-imposed deadline. Between putting in long hours at work, then long hours in the evening in my studio, plus doing an insane amount of Christmas prep (virtually all our gifts are of the edible homemade variety, which, although fun, is very time consuming), there was a stretch of at least 2 weeks when I didn’t get to bed before midnight. By the time Christmas vacation rolled around, I was running on fumes. And then, as is usually the case, just as I started to relax, I got sick. Ugh. But I finally put the finishing touches on this bad boy last night, and I’m so excited to be able to take you on a little tour of it and point out all my favourite details.

"Punctuated Equilibrium II" mosaic by Julie Sperling (2014, 18" x 12", glass rods, local stone, skateboard)

“Punctuated Equilibrium II” (2014) — stone from Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula, glass rods, and skateboard, 18″ x 12″

As you may recall, the Punctuated Equilibrium series is inspired by graffiti and how it can add life and energy to public spaces. This time, I decided to use glass rods rather than smalti for the graffiti portion, to better approximate that stippled spray paint effect. I used the cream-coloured rock I gathered at the cottage, and as I was chopping it into cubes I also saved some of the thinner edges to use as the ‘sparks’ coming off the graffiti.

"Punctuated Equilibrium II" - detail shot (Julie Sperling, 2014)

The spines of the rock radiating from the graffiti

I really had fun creating the crazy lines that curve and weave over and under each other throughout that bottom section. It was a good little challenge and I like the energy and chaos it brings to the area around the graffiti. Order is then restored as the lines gradually straighten out into a nice gentle flow and transition to a greyish-brown rock that has strong horizontal layers to it (and, oddly enough, smells like gasoline when you cut it).

"Punctuated Equilibrium II" - detail (Julie Sperling, 2014)

A closer look at those curvy weaving lines (and a peek at that little bit of skateboard tucked into the corner).

In pretty much every mosaic I make, I tend to have a favourite stone or two. My favourite one in this piece is one of the spines because it has a hole in it (which I didn’t even realize until after placing it into the thinset). My other favourite detail is how the grain of the grey-brown rock all runs the same way (that is, vertically). It was a pain to do, but worth it.

"Punctuated Equilibrium II" - favourite stone (Julie Sperling, 2014)

My absolute favourite stone in the entire piece. I just love that little hole in it!

"Punctuated Equilibrium II" detail (Julie Sperling, 2014)

See how all the grain runs up? Yup.

Anyway, that’s it! I’ve already got some ideas percolating for the third in the series, which were prompted by some comments on Facebook. It has to do with a new material for the graffiti portion, but that’s all I’m going to say for now, because it’ll require some experimentation. But if it works, I’m going to be pretty excited! Until then…

2

Still trying new things: The story behind “Punctuated equilibrium”

"Punctuated Equilibrium" mosaic by Julie Sperling

“Punctuated Equilibrium” (2013) — smalti, local stone, skateboard (12″ x 18″)

The concept for this piece, which I’m actually planning to turn into a series, had been nagging at me for months; I say ‘nagging’ because – try as I might (and there were countless sketches, trust me) – I just couldn’t figure out how to execute it.

I’ve always thought that graffiti art (the artistic stuff, not just the random tags that are more vandalism than art) injects a certain vibrancy into what is sometimes the otherwise dull, structured mass of concrete and glass that is the city. I wanted to somehow depict the ripples of energy and life that emanate from the graffiti, fading slowly back to the monotony of right angles and office towers. The solution didn’t hit me until after Rachel Sager’s workshop at Touchstone – I could use irregular chunks of stone (rather than cubes) to introduce that chaotic energy!

Solution in hand, I scribbled a graffiti-inspired doodle down in my sketchbook and picked my palette. I knew I wanted to do the graffiti section in long, skinny bits of smalti to evoke the idea of spray paint. Nice idea in theory, but in practice cutting those long, skinny pieces did a number on my fingertips. Thank goodness for butterfly bandaids! I eventually took to protectively covering my fingertips with masking tape before starting to cut (it was all I had on hand!). But I got through it and, in the end I think it was worth it.

The chunky rock bit came next. The stone I used came from two places: the lovely subtle green ones were scavenged by my parents up by their cottage (around the Lion’s Head area). The greyish-blue ones came from one block away from my apartment – they were just randomly lying there in the middle of the street, so of course I stopped to scoop them up! Both were perfect for the job, because they didn’t break neatly into cubes anyway. I also threw in some lines of smalti, almost like sparks coming off the graffiti. I originally wanted to use marble at the top in the opus regulatum section (and use the polished side too, not the riven edge) to depict that bland regularity, but when I got to that point it just didn’t feel right. So instead I opted for this really cool matte black stone from around here. I also couldn’t resist throwing in one of those fun little bits of skateboard that I made.

I’m still having fun with playing around and trying new things. I’ve never worked with smalti in this style before, nor have I worked with chunky rock. It was exhilarating (and more than a wee bit nerve-racking) to try these new things on a bigger piece and have no idea if the investment of time and materials (and heart) would actually pay off or not.

I had settled on the name of the piece (and eventual series) long before I even stuck the first piece of smalti into the thinset. As a former science nerd, I thought the evolutionary concept of punctuated equilibrium suited my purpose perfectly. So there you have it: “Punctuated Equilibrium I” — “I” because there will be more!

"Punctuated Equilibrium" mosaic - side view (by Julie Sperling)

Get a little peak from the side

"Punctuated Equilibrium" mosaic - detail shot (by Julie Sperling)

Mmmm look at that texture!

 

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WIP Wednesday: Graffiti (24 April 2013)

graffiti mosaic in smalti and unglazed porcelain - work in progress

I don’t want to tip my hand too much, because I’m SO CLOSE to being done and I want to do a big reveal when I am. So it was either this wee sample, or it was a shot of our sprouting seedlings (another kind of WIP – kale, tomato, eggplant, and more!).

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Finding my groove with the “Doodle bug”

This was a nice little transition piece to do. The simple design and small size gave me a chance to get reacquainted with my hammer and hardie and nippers, as well as get some practice using thinset. I’ll be honest, I was NOT loving the thinset and could frequently be heard pining for my Weldbond (oh Weldbond, Weldbond, wherefore art thou Weldbond?).

The piece was inspired by a little graffiti doodle I saw on the mean streets of Gatineau, Québec (where I work), hence the name “Doodle bug.” The original doodle disappeared long ago, as graffiti is wont to do, but this little stone and glass rendition is here to stay. I’m also pleased to report that this guy quickly found a new home with a young couple expecting their first child.

"Doodle bug" (2013) - Mexican smalti, marble, and vitragota on a repurposed cabinet face

“Doodle bug” (2013) – Mexican smalti, marble, and vitragota on a repurposed cabinet face

 

The doodle bug is ready for his close-up!

The doodle bug is ready for his close-up!

 

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