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My new workshop: A space full of love, history, and good energy

I made my first mosaic crouched on my brother’s old twin bed in his childhood room after he’d gone off to culinary school. My next few mosaics were made on my living room floor. Then I upgraded to a little nook in our kitchen, then a table (and shelf!) in our entryway. With each new apartment came a slightly better work space. Never a room to myself, but always at least a small corner to call my own. None of these spaces were ours for keeps—we always knew we’d move on in a few years—so I never wanted to invest (either money or soul) in making my work space a sacred space. It was functional and that was pretty much all.

With this recent move from Ottawa to Kitchener, I feel like I’ve won the lottery in terms of work space (regardless of the fact that the bar is set pretty low). We bought our first house and we’re here to stay. Finally, we can put down roots and I feel like I can get attached to my studio and make it my own. The previous owner of our house was a handyman, so there was already a small workshop in the basement. It has four walls, a door, and a small window, which all seems like such a luxury after years spent camped out on floors and in nooks and hallways.

My sacred space (complete with extra room for future hammer acquisitions)

My sacred space (complete with extra room for future hammer acquisitions)

My new studio is a patchwork of items of various origins, many of which come with their own backstory. Although I did haul a lot of what was there before off to the dump, some of it was salvageable. I kept the pegboard and the unsightly wood panelling, as well as one set of shelves, although I spruced all of this up with a few coats of fresh paint. I like that keeping these items maintains a link to the space’s past.

My dad, handyman extraordinaire, played a huge role in shaping my studio. My beautiful work tables—the heart of the room—are a product of his talent (and his predilection for salvaging things “just in case” they could be useful…I truly come by my foraging ways honestly). They’re made completely out of salvaged wood from three different sources:

  1. Tops: pine from old window frames from my parents’ house. (Some are from my childhood bedroom and have the remnants of gold paint on them—a relic of my sun and moon phase. Those of you who came of age in the 90s will understand.)
  2. Bases: cedar from the deck that was at my aunt and uncle’s cottage when they bought it. They ripped it out and it was all destined for the dump until my dad decided to save the pieces that were still good and store them in his garage for the next 15 to 20 years, “just in case”.
  3. Bottom shelves: cabinets from my parents’ kitchen, which my dad originally made, then salvaged, then brilliantly repurposed for my studio.
The heart of the workshop: the tables. And you can see I'm already filling up the shelves below...

The heart of the workshop: the tables. And you can see I’m already filling up the shelves below…

When I varnished the table tops, I didn’t erase the pencil marks my dad had left while he was making them. They’re a testament to the love and skill that went into making these tables.

There are other bits of history in this room, which I adore. The clock on the wall was in my maternal grandma’s kitchen when my mom was growing up, and the green stool was in my paternal grandma’s kitchen when my dad was growing up. The tool holder was (again) courtesy of my dad. I asked him if he had any PVC pipe “in stock” (which is code for “squirrelled away in the garage”) and he came back with something even better. The pictures tacked up on the naked ceiling beams and the back of the shelf once adorned my office cube walls, and were originally pages from a homemade calendar. The tea tins holding the plants on my windowsill are from a lovely day spent with friends at a community garage sale outside of Ottawa. There are also words of encouragement from colleagues, fun tokens of affection from fellow mosaicists, and, of course, the mosaic I made in the class that changed my life, there as a reminder of where I started and how far I’ve come. Oh, and there’s a big empty space on the pegboard for all the hammers I have yet to acquire.

My new space might be small, and my studio mate might be a water heater, but it is all mine. It is filled with love, with history, and with good energy, and I grin ear to ear every time I open the door. It is a sanctuary and it already feels sacred to me. I am very excited to make meaningful art in this space. I will do good things here. I promise.



Where the magic happens

I was about to start packing up my workspace when I decided I should take a quick picture of it so I could show you all where the magic has happened for the past few years. It’s a small space for sure (just a nook in the corner of our kitchen), but it’s been nice to have a space to call my own. As small as this space is, it looks like my new one will be even smaller. I’ll be sure to post pictures after I’m all settled in later in the summer.

And with that, I bid a fond adieu to my little workspace!

Here’s where the magic happens! See the chalkboard I painted on the wall for doodling new ideas?

Some of the materials I have in stock. That shelf? I built it myself out of some Ikea bed slats I found on the curb. Yah, I’m handy like that.


Have tools (and carrying case), will travel

Now that I’ve started taking classes out of town and accumulating a small collection of tools, I thought it might be a good idea to have some way of getting my tools from one place to another. So over the Christmas break, I whipped up this tool roll. It’s made from a double layer of an old flannel blanket (the same one I used to give weight to the t-shirt quilt I made) and the outside is just some fun fabric that we picked up at the thrift store. Oh, and the string to wrap it up? That’s a shoelace from Mountain Equipment Coop‘s and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s “Big Wild” Campaign.

Tool roll, all rolled up!

Open sesame! Look at my stash!


Introducing Leonard the log!

After taking the introductory Roman mosaics class and falling hopelessly in love with the hammer and hardie, I immediately began my search for a log in which to embed my hardie.

Walking around the neighbourhood, I made a mental note of all the trees marked with the bright red “X” that means they’re destined to be chopped down. I knew it was a long shot, but I thought maybe, just maybe, I would happen to wander by at the exact moment that a crew was cutting down a tree and would be able to convince them to give me a small log. Well, that never happened. But here’s what did happen:

While biking through the city to meet up with some friends, I happened upon a pickup truck loaded with manageable rounds of wood from what looked like a freshly felled tree. I stopped, got off my bike, and went over to the truck. Nobody was there. I waited for almost 15 minutes, hoping the truck’s owner would return. Alas. Reluctantly, I carried on my now not-so-merry way, sad to be walking away from such a prime find.

I told my two friends the story of my search for a log and about the truck I had just passed. They wanted to help. As we parted ways, one asked: “Do you want us to come back to the truck with you since we have a car?” I told her not to worry about it – the truck was probably gone by now anyway. So I hopped on my bike and headed for home.

And…you guessed it: the truck (and its load of logs) was still there!

This, I convinced myself, was a sign from the universe. I was meant to have a log from that truck. It was now dark out, and taking a log from the back of a pickup truck didn’t seem quite as bad as it had in broad daylight. It was just one little log among many, and it was probably just destined for the fireplace or the wood chipper anyway. However, there was just one problem: there was no way I could carry it on my bike. I paused for just a heartbeat, then did a u-turn and booted it back to where my friends were parked.

“Please let them still be there. Please let them still be there,” I panted, biking as fast as I could. As I approached where we had parted ways, they were just pulling out of their parking spot. I manoeuvred my bike alongside their car and waved frantically. They saw me and waved a friendly wave back, as if to say “Oh hey, there’s Julie. Hi Julie!”. They didn’t understand! Their car pulled ahead slightly and I dug deep, willing myself to go faster. As I came up beside the car again, I waved my arm to get their attention again and then did the universal ‘roll down your window’ sign, at which point I shouted breathlessly, “It’s still there!!! Help?!”

Being the dears they are, they turned around and followed me back to the truck. With a bit of muscle and a lot of teamwork, we liberated my chosen log, which then travelled with my friends back to their place. A few weeks later, we met up again and they brought my log, which they had christened Leonard. Len and I then made the trip back to my place by bus. My arms nearly fell off in the process – he’s a hefty chunk of wood – but we made it.

Leonard in his natural state

After letting him dry out a bit beside the rad, I gave him a good sanding on the top and bottom and then, finally, screwed up the courage to drill the hole for the hardie. I didn’t really have the proper tools, but I made do with a regular drill, a hammer, and a big screwdriver. (A drill with a much larger bit, plus a mallet and chisel, would probably have been a bit more ideal.)

Len after his sanding. Looking good, Len!

I’ve since taken Leonard out for a test drive on some marble subway tiles I picked up at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Pretty slick! I have the feeling this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship…

Here’s Leonard, all decked out. (The hardie wasn’t embedded quite deeply enough at this point, but I could stop myself from snapping a pic during one of the pauses in my drilling / chipping!


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