Tag Archives | Ottawa

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

Travelling feet: Half of my contribution to Rachel Sager’s Ruins Project

Done and ready to be shipped to its new home!

Done and ready to be shipped to its new home!

This past summer, while on vacation at my family’s cottage, I finally got around to making a contribution to send to Rachel Sager for The Ruins Project. (If you don’t know about this undertaking of hers yet, read this—it’s basically amazing.) Well, technically I made half of a contribution. What did I send her? My left footprint. I intend to make and install the right footprint in situ when I finally get myself to The Ruins one of these days. You might be asking why on earth I would make a footprint, particularly given that it’s a bit out of character for me since I tend heavily toward the abstract, but trust me, it makes perfect sense. Bear with me as I explain…

When I started thinking about what I wanted to do, I knew it somehow had to be tied to Place. If you’re familiar with Rachel’s work, you know this theme figures prominently for her, and her Ruins promise to be one gloriously sprawling, mosaic-laden tribute to Place. Luckily, notions of Place are also near and dear to my geographer’s heart, so this was a natural fit for me.

All installed in The Ruins!

All installed in The Ruins! (Photo courtesy of Rachel Sager)

So what connects Place and a footprint for me? Easy: walking. I am an avid walker and, like the lines in my mosaics, I take such pleasure in wandering and meandering, letting my feet and my curiosity carry me where they will. There’s something about walking’s repetition, rhythm, and simplicity that really resonates with me. Walking is how I connect best with my Place; it forces me to slow down and notice little details and really get to know my surroundings as I move through the landscape at a human pace. The best walks are unhurried and unfold at their own pace, similar to mosaic, which defies being rushed.

For me, mosaics, Place, and walking are all inextricably intertwined. There are so many parallels between what I experience when I’m moving through my landscape on foot and what I experience when I’m simultaneously creating and discovering the pathways of my own mosaics. That’s why I decided to make a footprint (well, an eventual set of footprints) for Rachel’s Ruins.

C'mon, that's a pretty nice footprint (hanging in the studio, just waiting for the trip to the cottage).

C’mon, that’s a pretty nice footprint (hanging in the studio, just waiting for the trip to the cottage).

The footprint really is mine—I actually painted the sole of my foot to make the template, then hopped on one foot to the bathroom to wash it off (don’t ask me why it didn’t occur to me to do the whole process in the bathroom). For a long time, I didn’t like my feet. They’re too wide (like, really wide), the toes are stubby, and the left foot is a whole half size bigger than the right. Mine are not elegant feet. But the more in love I’ve fallen with walking, the more I’ve come to appreciate my feet. They are a solid, sturdy base, they are practical and made for exploration, and they ground me in my Place. And, as it turns out, they make for really good, classic-looking footprints.

The left foot that now calls The Ruins home is made from pieces of my Place. The black rock is my favourite rock from where I live (Ottawa) and this particular batch was foraged in celebration of my second Touchstone anniversary. The big chunks of off-white rock with the beautiful pockets and pits are from the cottage, which is a very special place for me and full of lots of good memories. The right foot will eventually be made from stones and other materials found in and around The Ruins, as that place (with Rachel’s class at Touchstone serving as a proxy) has left its mark on me and influenced how I am navigating the various twists and turns of the mosaic path down which I am now travelling.

My foot and its neighbour (by Kelley Knickerbocker)

My foot and its neighbour (by Kelley Knickerbocker). Photo courtesy of Rachel Sager.

This was a really fun project for me and I was so happy to be able to contribute to this fabulous (and massive) undertaking of Rachel’s. I can’t wait to head down and complete the pair. Stay tuned! And keep your eye on her website and social media channels (there’s even a hashtag: #TheRuinsProject) for updates as the project picks up steam.

Zoomed out for a bit of perspective. Look how tiny my foot is compared to the stairs. And those stairs themselves are dwarfed by the Ruins writ large...

Zoomed out for a bit of perspective. Look how tiny my foot is compared to the stairs. And those stairs themselves are dwarfed by the Ruins writ large… (Photo courtesy of Rachel Sager)

A side note: When I told my parents that I was on the hunt for nice pitted chunks of the limestone from the cottage, which are tougher to come by than you’d think (at least in manageable sizes), my dad offered up one particularly beautiful specimen. It had been sitting on a shelf where he displays lots of interesting little objects that he randomly finds here and there, and I knew immediately that it had to remain at the cottage. So I turned it into a little mosaic that I later installed on the side of the cottage.

Freshly installed, thinset not even dry yet!

Freshly installed, thinset not even dry yet!

**Update!**

In October 2016 I actually visited Rachel’s Ruins and got to finish my pair of feet, the second of which I made out of materials I found right there, under foot, in the Ruins.

My right foot, made with my special “Ruins mix” of materials

The pair of them, with more work popping up around them

1

Melting away: A mosaic about sea ice decline

For the second mosaic in my climate change series, I decided to tackle sea ice decline. The long and the short of the trend: it doesn’t look good for sea ice, folks (or for the cryosphere in general). But don’t just take my word for it, let’s see what the smarty pants scientists from the IPCC have to say about the subject: according to them, “the current (1980–2012) summer sea ice retreat was unprecedented and sea surface temperatures in the Arctic were anomalously high in the perspective of at least the last 1450 years.” Yikes. Oh, and “a nearly ice-free Arctic Ocean in September before mid-century is likely.” Why should you be concerned about the loss of sea ice? Well, it plays an important function in regulating the Earth’s temperature (its whiteness and shininess reflects light and heat), so without it things will get even warmer and wonkier. It’s also a key component of polar ecosystems—think of the polar bears and seals and penguins, oh my!

Sea ice mosaic by Julie Sperling

“Sea ice (Steady unprecedented decline)” (2014), 14.5″ x 20″
Quartz, marble, stone from Ottawa and Georgian Bay, smalti, recycled glass tile, salvaged glass table top

 

Yep, it’s disappearing. Source: Climate Change 2013, The Physical Science Basis (IPCC)

This particular mosaic was based on a graph of Arctic summer sea ice extent since 1900. The trendline of the mosaic is made from a big chunk of quartz that was given to me by a friend of my mom’s. It took me a while to work up the nerve to smash it to bits with my hammer, but it was either that or let it sit there and collect dust. And this just means I have room to bring in more fun materials! In terms of stone, I used a white marble tile I scored at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, along with that amazing blue stone from up near the cottage (Georgian Bay, Ontario), and the nice glittery grey layered limestone (?) and black stone from Ottawa. The glass is a mix of smalti (the various blue lines), recycled glass tile, and some chunks of a broken glass tabletop that I rescued from the curb. I like the way the stone and the clear glass play off each other, but it really was a struggle to break down the glass. I’m slowly rekindling my relationship with glass, but it needs work. I think more practice will help, because as my skills get stronger, I will be less frustrated when working with it. And I’m hoping my sweet new Japanese hammer will help…

Sea ice mosaic by Julie Sperling (detail)

A slightly better view of the undulations

I added some undulations to the substrate to evoke snow drifts and rolling seas. And I intentionally put some of the machined edges of the glass facing up (as opposed to the riven side) because, being so smooth, they really catch the light and look like glints of shiny snow or ice. Of course, the curves and the way the tesserae catch the light—which are my two favourite parts of this mosaic—are the hardest ones to photograph. I really had trouble getting a photo that captures the essence of this piece (I was desperately wishing my photographer friends lived closer). Perhaps it’s just one of those pieces that needs to be seen in person for the full effect. Or perhaps I just need to hone my photography skills. I suspect it’s actually a little of both.

I’m thoroughly enjoying creating this series, even though I’m only two mosaics into it. I like the idea of engaging with a subject for a prolonged period of time. I’ve already got my next two pieces ready to go in my mind, and countless other proto-ideas jotted down. Apparently climate change is the subject that, sadly, keeps on giving. In a previous post I had joked about a cheeky working title for the series, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to keep it as the official series title. So, it’s official: say hello to “Fiddling while Rome burns”—a series of mosaics about climate change.

Sea ice mosaic by Julie Sperling (quartz detail)

A close-up of some of the quartz pieces, and you can also see the difference between the riven and machined edges of the glass (See the run of smooth, shiny glass pieces between the two quartz chunks? Now contrast that with the riven edges of the glass three rows above.)

A front angle shot to show the topography

A front angle shot to show the topography

Sea ice mosaic by Julie Sperling (side view)

Looking back towards the top of the trend line

Sea ice mosaic by Julie Sperling (detail of topography and quartz)

Just a side view of the topography and the quartz sticking up, just floating along on the flowing ice and water

Sea ice mosaic by Julie Sperling (quartz detail)

The quartz and rolling snow drifts and waves from another angle

Sea ice mosaic by Julie Sperling (quartz detail)

A look at the biggest quartz pieces in the icy, snowy top corner before they melt away…

8

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

Craving colour: The urge to create “Incendio”

The fire hose cap that helped satisfy my craving for colour. (Found in Ottawa's Chinatown.)

The fire hose cap that helped satisfy my craving for colour. (Found in Ottawa’s Chinatown.)

Lines of colour and energy

Lines of colour and energy

Every once in a while, I’ll come across some fun little trinket that I think has the potential to be incorporated into a future mosaic. Such was the case with the fire hose cap that was the starting point for “Incendio,” which I found on the street one sunny day around Thanksgiving when R and I were out with Dexter for a walk.

Most of these little doodads sit for months (or even years) on my shelf, waiting for just the right concept to pop into my head. Not the case with the hose cap. When I picked it up, I thought I’d just pop it in the bin with all the other interesting finds until I had a use for it. But after finishing “Lifecycle”, which eased me into a much-needed calm, zen-like state and helped me find my centre again, I was suddenly craving colour and energy.

And thus emerged “Incendio”. I grabbed some smalti from the shelf, chopped up some of that fabulous matte black stone from the banks of the Ottawa River (man, I love that stuff!), and away I went. I didn’t have much of a plan. Just followed my gut. Colour and energy.

Full credit for the name goes to R. We were sitting on the couch, just bouncing names around, and I was having such trouble coming up with something. All of a sudden she just said, “Why not ‘Incendio’?” It’s funny how you just know when you hit on the right name – it just clicks. (And thank goodness, because this piece was dangerously close to being called “Solar flare”, which was the best I could do.)

"Incendio" (2013) -- stone from the banks of the Ottawa River, smalti, and a fire hose cap, 12" x 12"

“Incendio” (2013) — stone from the banks of the Ottawa River, smalti, and a fire hose cap, 12″ x 12″

2

Getting to know the rocks in my neighbourhood

Pretty typical of what's around here. This is at the pocket park right by my work.

Pretty typical of what’s around here. This is at the pocket park right by my work.

So far, spring and summer have been wet, which has foiled the vast majority of my attempts to go out rock hunting. The best I’ve been able to manage is a few lunchtime jaunts to that pocket park where I got the black rock for “Grounded” or a nearby section of the riverfront trail, which is fine except for the fact that it’s teeming with civil servants at lunchtime and I feel very self-conscious picking rocks with everyone watching. I also managed to get out once (seriously, only once – and even then there were thunderclouds looming) one weekend to a little island that I thought would have great scavenging opportunities, which it did, although those opportunities will probably be better once the water levels are a bit lower and more of the shoreline is exposed.

I feel like I’m riding a very steep learning curve. I’m slowly getting to know what kinds of rock my hammer and hardie can handle, both in terms of type and thickness. I’m finding that the stuff I can get through here is maybe one-third of the thickness of the rocks I was easily breaking with my hammer and hardie at Touchstone. Even though I take my mini-sledge with me whenever possible to crack stones open and get a sense of whether I’ll be able to cut them at home, I still manage to lug plenty of really hard, ‘uncuttable’ stone back home with me. Like I said, learning curve.

I haven’t actually busted out my rock identification kit yet (best garage-sale find of the season!), so I don’t know the names of the rocks, but that’s coming. I think it’s safe to say that I’ve found limestone. Lots of limestone. And maybe a wee bit of sandstone. Oooh, and so many fossils and neat quartz (?) formations. Those aren’t going to get chopped up – I’ll just incorporate them into mosaics “as is”.

Awww yeah - rock and mineral identification sets from the Geological Survey of Canada (from way back in 1966!)

Awww yeah – rock and mineral identification sets from the Geological Survey of Canada (from way back in 1966!)

The palette here is so different than what we worked with at Touchstone. Definitely more monochrome – lots of black and grey. I’m starting to appreciate the subtleties of the rocks, rather than pining for the colour range of the Pennsylvania sandstone: the black rocks with tiny pockets of quartz or what looks like flecks of metallic mineral, the grey layered rocks with greenish lines running through them, the (other) grey rocks with a orangey-brown layer on one side…

These rocks cut differently than the Pennsylvania sandstone (duh, obviously). I’m resigning myself to the fact that I inevitably end up with much more regular cubes, smoother surfaces, and sharper angles than with the sandstone. I’m trying to think in terms of what I can do with the stones to bring out their innate qualities – let them do what they want to do – rather than forcing them to conform to what I want to do. It’s all about give and take and letting the spirit of the place imbue my work. I don’t have it all figured out yet, but I’m working on it.

So for now it’s all about playing around and getting familiar with the materials that surround me. Hopefully the weather will be more cooperative going forward, because I’ve got to build up a nice little stockpile of rock before the winter sets in. I like that there’s a seasonal dimension to this process – it just further reinforces the connection to place.

Look at all these fun rocks!

Look at all these fun rocks!

0

When in Montreal, do as … the Romans did (?)

Arriving in Montreal … the good ol’ Five Roses factory

I am in love. Mosaic love, that is. About a month ago, I took the train to Montreal for another Mosaikashop course, this one on Roman mosaics.

We each made our own 8″x8″ Roman-style mosaic using the indirect method (which I had never used before) and then cast the whole thing in concrete. I made sure to choose a simple design, just like I did last time, so that I could finish by Sunday.

For the tesserae, we used marble rods that we cut with a hammer and hardie (essentially a big chisel that you embed in a log, plus a sharp hammer). I immediately fell in love with the H&H. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because it feels so hands-on. Not that other mosaic techniques don’t, but this was just … different. It was rugged. And organic. And because the tool hasn’t changed much since Roman times, I guess I felt like I was part of a tradition, which to me was pretty neat.

I can’t wait to do more marble work with my H&H. So many ideas percolating. But first, I need to find a log, ASAP! I also need to track down a steady (and ideally cheap) supply of marble. I thought I had it made when the local granite store owner told me I could raid his dumpster whenever I wanted, but it turns out that granite is too hard and will ruin my beloved H&H. Boo. So if anyone out there knows where to find cheap (or free!) marble offcuts in the Ottawa area, let me know!

Here it is! Cast in concrete, then grouted and waxed.

My new favourite tool: hammer and hardie

4

Inspired!

Today I attended a workshop all about how to turn your hobby into a job. It was organized by the fabulous gals from Les Ateliers and facilitated by the brains behind Ottawa’s The Craft Co-op .

It was really inspiring to hear from so many talented and driven people who are actually “living the dream”. I came away with a renewed sense of motivation and a whole bunch of ideas for how to push Red Squirrel Mosaics forward. So stay tuned for some exciting changes around here!

I was pretty jazzed about the workshop, so I mentioned it on Facebook and two really great friends posted some wonderfully supportive comments. Sometimes it really helps knowing there are people out there who believe in you!

sometimes a dream is all it takes!

Hasn’t everyone known for ages that you need to turn your hobby into a job?! ;) Hope the workshop goes well! I can’t wait for the mosaic shop opening!!!

 

0

It’s [almost] the most wonderful time of the year

OK, so it’s not Christmas yet. It’s really not even close to being Christmas – the stores have only just put out all the Hallowe’en goodies. But I wanted to share some good festive news:

I will be participating in the Sandy Hill’s ONE & ONLY Art and Gift Fair!

It’s my first craft show and I am totally excited (and a bit nervous). I guess now I really have to buckle down and build up my inventory! In the line-up of things to be mosaicked: lots of mirrors, some plates, a few vases, and a lamp. And anything else I can scrounge up between now and then!

So if you’re in Ottawa on November 23 and are looking for that perfect handmade gift, come check it out!

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