Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

Gracie will soon dive into public life

I’m delighted to announce that this winter, MW Book Publishing of Garden Bay, BC will be releasing my first children’s book, Gracie’s Got a Secret.

In this picture book, an impatient and feisty little goldfish named Gracie escapes her fishbowl and leaves her family, determined to share a secret with the outside world. Along the way, she befriends a weepy alligator who’s stuck in the sewer and a circus elephant with dreams of freedom. By helping her new pals, Gracie learns to slow down and go with the flow, gaining remarkable results and a clear way back to a loving home.

I never do reveal what the secret is, but leave it to the reader’s imagination. This uplifting story, which comes with engaging questions to prompt discussion, invites children to believe in themselves, dream big, support others, and find their inner stillness.

Unbelievably, this book was twenty years in the making. I first got the idea for it while travelling in India. The book started out all in rhyme, but after a number of drafts, I dropped that. The first woman who ever gave me feedback produced a scathing, 10-page , single-spaced critique and ended with”I wouldn’t read it again to my nine-year-old.” Ouch.

Still, I didn’t give up. I researched markets and perused picture books and sent the manuscript to publishers. Besides the usual generic, impersonal rejection slips, I got comments like “We don’t do talking animals.” (So much for Dr. Seuss, Dr. Doolittle, and every Disney movie ever made.) One twenty-something reader told me that using alliteration was the sign of an amateur. Double ouch.

Tired of rejections, I put the manuscript away. Over the years, I would pull it out, do another few drafts, and send it out again. More rejections. I got feedback from friends. Some read it to kids. I got their views. Overall, most people seemed to really like it. Various friends, who are published authors, thought it was ready for publication years ago. But no publisher seemed to want to take a chance with it.

Once, when I was in a pet store,  a goldfish ended up on the floor at my feet, having somehow escaped from its aquarium. I took that as a sign.

I found out that children’s picture books are a more competitive market than even adult publishing, especially since they require costly, four-colour printing. I did more drafts. Got more rejections. Time to put it away again. I figured that it was probably going to be one of those learning projects that would sit in my drawer. I was too cheap to publish it myself.

I grew more encouraged after sending the manuscript to Dennis Lee, author of popular Canadian children’s books like Alligator Pie.  He said that my book was better than most that crossed his desk and added that he would be delighted to see Gracie “swimming into print.”

That was years ago. I did more drafts. Got more rejections. Then recently, I attended a literary function in Gibsons, and happened to share a table with MW Book publisher William Gelbart. When I heard that he published a variety of genres, including children’s books, I thought: Hmmm, maybe it’s time to revive Gracie. I hauled her out, did some more fine-tuning, and sent off my story. He liked it,  calling it “cute.”

Gee, that last part of this long process seemed so effortless. Success at last. I look forward to having Gracie out in the world and sharing her with audiences, young and old.

November 22, 2010 at 10:33 pm Comments (2)

Portraits beyond life and limb

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                — photo by Russ Tkachuk

How would you react to seeing a painting of yourself in a public show?

This week, I had the opportunity to see how a half-dozen local artists portrayed the same person and each other in different acrylic portraits. It was bizarre to watch real-life people stand next to diverse images of themselves, large and small. Almost all of the finished paintings emerged after only five 20-minute sessions of posing, with some embellished by later touches.

The exhibition Ourselves and Others  opened this week at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre, featuring the work of  Coast artists called the Life and Limb Painting Group. Their name evokes folks who favour dismemberment at great risk, but they’re truly harmless.

This group, which paints together at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre in Sechelt, BC, has met regularly for at least three years, using nude models. When they grew tired of that, they decided to paint each other —  while posing  clothed, of course. The results are intriguing: angles, soft edges, and creative interpretations in close-ups and full-body renderings that reveal each artist’s characteristic style.

(I suggest they hold onto those paintings of nude models. I heard on CBC Radio this week that some eightyish artist in Great Britain has dug up a nude painting or drawing he did of Sean Connery when the actor was  a young student and posing for art classes for pay. Imagine what it’s worth now.)

Mudito Drope did the above portrait of me, which was featured in the show. You can see the portrait in its early stages below on my April 2010 post. I’m pleased with the final result.

Great show, everybody, with a remarkable turnout.

November 6, 2010 at 10:18 am Comments (0)

Woolly public art: better than tea cozies

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                                                                                                                       — Heather Conn photos

I was delighted last week to spot two offbeat, local examples of public street art, otherwise known as “yarn bombing.” While walking down Cowrie Street, the main drag in Sechelt, BC, I saw a different hand-knit woolly cover stretched over two brown-and-yellow metal posts. These fuzzy, striped sleeves covered unsightly chipped paint and added a jaunty, colourful spirit to an otherwise drab street scene. Hurray for fun and creative self-expression in public spaces.

 

Yarn bombing is a cool, new form of craft-making, whereby mostly urban women fit knitted or crocheted concoctions over public structures. A parking meter gets its own snug sweater. A tree branch gains a crazy-coloured, woollen branch. Pink, knitted pom-poms dangle from a red fire hydrant. Done anonymously, this donated art  adopts the stealth-application style of graffiti artists.

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I first discovered this quirky form of street art at a BC Book Prizes reception in Vancouver, where I saw the book Yarn Bombing: the Art of Crochet and Knit Graffiti by Vancouverites Mandy Moore and Leanne Prain. I loved the concept and marvelled at the prankster-style patterns included in the book for knit and crochet installations. (Prain co-founded a “stitch-and-bitch” group called Knitting and Beer.)

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I’ve since learned that there’s an international “guerrilla” knitting movement called Knitta. which began in Houston, TX in 2005 — hardly the hotbed of radicalism.

 

It was great to see some whimsical soul add a local angle to the movement here on the Sunshine Coast. Besides, the posts were right next to several other wonderful examples of art in public spaces: artist Jan Poynter’s hand-painted images on BC Hydro’s otherwise-boring  transformer or relay boxes.

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I admire the prolific pranksters in yarn and wool, especially since knitting and crocheting never caught on with me. As a teen, I crocheted a blue granny-square afghan, but it took me ages to transform my initial efforts from too-big circles into evenly sized squares. As for knitting, I think I produced one of those boring, de rigeuer scarves for a home economics class and that was it. I don’t think such activities are designed for impatient people like me. 

 

I just found out who created the Cowrie Street yarn additions and it’s someone I know. What fun. I’m not telling.  This year’s Gibsons Landing Fibre Arts Festival is hosting its own version of yarn storming. The festival is inviting people to decorate Gibsons with their own knit or crocheted creation. Participants are encouraged to make something functional such as hats or scarves that can later go to those in need. Otherwise, people can feel free to “liberate” the fuzzy public art creations after the festival.

 

For more information and guidelines, contact festival co-sponsor Unwind Knit and Fibre Lounge at 886-1418 or email info@unwindknitandfibre.ca, using  “Yarn Storming'” in the subject line. There will be related photos in the entrance of the festival and a people’s choice award.

 

Sadly, this might be the last year of the Fibre Arts Festival due to a current lack of committed volunteers. Festival organizers have announced that they won’t hold the annual event next year. Be sure to enjoy this year’s festival, held August 19-21.

July 21, 2010 at 7:37 pm Comment (1)

A portrait: composure and compassion

Mudito Drope, an artist in Gibsons, BC, recently asked me if I wanted to pose for a colour portrait. Flattered, I said, “Sure.” When I asked: “Why me?” she replied: “You have an interesting face.” (That’s better than what one ex-boyfriend told me: that I had an “unfinished face.”  I’m still not sure what he meant by that, but I’ve never forgotten the term.)

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While posing in Mudito’s studio, I thought it would be tough to remain in the same position, but it wasn’t. I treated the exercise like an open-eyed meditation and had no problem lasting longer than Mudito’s suggested 20-minute increments. The time from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., with a break for lunch, went by really quickly.

 

For some of that time, we listened to a tape of Bill Moyers interviewing Karen Armstrong about the societal need for compassion and tolerance, and about the Charter for Compassion, which Armstrong helped to forge. The charter states: “We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world.” It also declares:

“Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.”

The charter ends with this: “Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensible to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.”

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I found Moyers’ and Armstrong’s conversation inspirational and easy to absorb while staying still. During my sit, a crow landed on a branch close to the studio window and a pesky flicker tapped away at the outside wall of Mudito’s wooden, board-and-batten home.

 

By the time that I left at about 1:30, Mudito hadn’t finished the portrait, but was well through it. I thought that I looked severe and sad in it, but it definitely looked like me. Besides, I was feeling sad that day, concerned about my father, who was in the hospital with a number of serious medical issues.

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It was intriguing to watch Mudito in her focused process and to see the colour palette that she uses on faces when doing portraits. On some of her paintings of people, she includes a phrase, an idea that I love. I suggested that she use “Bring a voice to what lies hidden,” which has been a creative theme for me for years and fuels my current memoir writing and SoulCollage work.

 

Mudito now has her first solo exhbition of portraits at the Gibsons Public Art Gallery, which will be on display until May 31. Check them out and enjoy.

April 25, 2010 at 3:01 pm Comments (0)

Why are sports such a high priority?

While walking in downtown Vancouver, BC, Canada yesterday, I noticed quite a few people wearing Vancouver Canucks jerseys and cars bearing Canucks flags. (Those small flags that flap above a car’s side window remind me not of sports celebration but of funeral motorcades.) Such are the signs of local sports fan fervor, since the Canucks last night were playing their season opener in the Stanley Cup playoffs  in Vancouver’s General Motors Place.  (They beat the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 in overtime.)

 

Although I admit to enjoying playoff games and have watched many a hockey game in my life, especially as a teenager growing up in Toronto, I still ask: Why can’t people get equally excited about other things that truly matter and affect lives more directly, whether it’s a humanitarian issue or a political decision like the HST (harmonized sales tax)? Sports games produce frothing direct-response from fans while many serious local and global issues and events barely garner awareness. I’ve always found this contradiction bizarre.

 

The  rapt attention of fans watching a sporting event is what prompted Keith Johnstone, co-founder and former artistic director of Loose Moose Theatre in Calgary, Alta., to create the concept of “theatresports.” He wanted to make people as excited about improvisational theatre as they were about supporting their favourite sports team. Hence, he created a competitive framework with actors and teams vying against each other in various fun categories doing spontaneous theatre.

 

The result is that Johnstone helped to create a massive audience for this free-flow acting medium, which has spawned successful troupes from the Vancouver TheatreSports League to the British television show Whose Line is It Anyway?. The latter program inspired a  dumbed-down version in the U.S. with the same name, hosted by Drew Carey. (I much preferred the original British show, which used more literary and cultural references.) For anyone with an interest in improvisational theatre, I highly recommend Johnstone’s book Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre.

Here in British Columbia, the federal and provincial governments have decimated funding to arts groups and yet had no difficulty providing millions to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. During the Olympic protest at Vancouver’s Art Gallery (see my post under 2010 Winter Olympics), one guy held a placard that aptly read: “With glowing hearts we kill the arts.” Why do athletes, rather than artists, garner such esteem ?

 

I don’t think it’s a contradiction to enjoy both sports and the arts, but professional athletes and sports attract far too much money and attention relative to other human activities.  By comparison, everyday artists and their creative endeavors deserve far more respect and remuneration for their efforts. I wish that we had an entrenched patron-of-the-arts system and widespread guilds for individuals like those that existed in medieval times.

 

I also wish that many people cared as fervently about sociocultural, political, and humanitarian issues as they do about sports. Where are our priorities?

April 16, 2010 at 12:29 pm Comments (0)

Sam Mandala’s memory flows on

I love the synchronicity of the Internet. Last summer, I posted a whimsical entry about the wooden salmon art piece I did called “Sam Mandala,” which played on the word “salmon” and used mandala images as a theme. Well, it turns out that there was a real Sam Mandala, an Italian born in the Bronx. His granddaughter Melissa had Googled his name, and wound up on my blog. Who woulda thunk it?

 

She said that she loved my fish mandala and wanted to know if it was for sale. (It’s not. It was auctioned off and I have no idea who bought it.) She added: “[I]t describes my grandfather’s personality to a ‘t’.”

 

When Melissa emailed me about this, I was skeptical, having been victim of an Internet job hoax several months ago. But I did my own online research before responding and yes, she did exist. When I asked to find out more about her grandfather, here is what she sent in a reply:

 

“I’m from New Jersey, my grandfather was born in the Bronx, then moved to Newark, NJ. His parents and oldest brother were born in Sicily. His brothers were deviants, his brother Paulie was a bookie and his other brother was the type to steal and then fence the items.

 

Grandpa followed a different path. He married Grandma and then went to war in Korea. There are so many pictures where he’s kissing and hugging and holding Grandma on his lap. Every photo, he has a huge smile. I remember when I’d spend the night, he would wake up first, brew coffee, and bring it in to Grandma while she was in bed. He spoiled her and it was cute. Everyone in his senior citizen apartment building knew who he was because he would talk to everyone, but never got involved with drama or gossip. He always had a joke on hand. I think, maybe, he was a bit of a flirt!! So, that’s Sam Mandala as I remember him . . .”

 

What a wonderful story. I encouraged Melissa to write about her grandfather since so many family stories and reminiscences disappear, never told. That’s one reason why I’m writing a memoir and encourage others to do so through my workshops. Thanks, Melissa, for sharing a touching tale. I’m grateful that your grandpa’s memory ended up prompting you to contact me.

March 31, 2010 at 10:15 am Comments (0)

Meet “Sam Mandala”

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                                                                                                                         — Heather Conn photo

July 2009

Each summer, the Pacific northwest coastal town of Gibsons, BC, Canada hosts an art display and auction, using a salmon theme. All entrants get the same wooden salmon shape and are invited to revision it their own way with paint,  collage, decoration — whatever. Participants can write a “fish bio” for their entry, if desired.

I decided to have some fun with this. Since I live in Roberts Creek, BC (aka Gumboot Nation), known for its alternative culture and a large, colourful mandala on its pier, I created a fish that I call Sam Mandala.  Here’s what I wrote for his bio:

Sam Mandala is no pushy, upstream sort. Nor does he wallow in the shallows. He likes to find stillness deep in the creek, floating in contemplative bliss along a gentle current. Some folks call it “going with the flow.” During his meditative journeys, he frequently keeps his eyes closed, never quite sure if he’s swum the same river twice. You’ll find him at the watery fringes of the pier in Gumboot Nation, the favoured habitat of the sacred circle. Om . . .

Honor the sacred circle

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                                                                                                                         — Heather Conn photo

I love doing collage. I also love the spiral patterns of ammonites, and have collected a number of these intriguing fossils. The symbolic imagery of the circle, one of the most ancient human and sacred forms,  has always fascinated me. I seek out circular forms in my art work, photography, and life (mandalas, labyrinths) as a reminder of the unity and oneness of existence. My husband Frank and I were married in a friend’s labyrinth, which is patterned after the one in Chartres Cathedral.

I created this mirror using a collection of circular forms. The one in the top left is from Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party.

 

Celebrate yourself with SoulCollage

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                                                                                                                         — Heather Conn photo

I facilitate workshops for a process called SoulCollage, which involves creating a personalized deck of collage cards that represent an individual’s archetypal and spiritual influences and sub-personalities. This is a fun and intuitive way to explore hidden parts of yourself and to share these with others. To find out more, check out my website at www.sunshinecoastsoulcollage.ca.

 

 Mermaids intrigue me

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                                                                                                                           — Heather Conn photo

This mermaid tile was my first effort at making mosaics. I was lucky to have access to the studio of friends who are professional mosaic artists. I created the image myself and then they helped me with tips on how to shade with colors, work with the grout, etc. I loved the process and began to seek out public mosaic art. Now I find myself paying much more attention to mosaic designs and installations that I see on public walls, sidewalks, and floors.

For several decades, I have found myself drawn to mermaids, their mythology and their symbolic status of integrating two worlds and life forms. I love the whimsical idea of mermaids. As a redhead, I enjoy the fact that most of them are portayed with scarlet tresses. However, the notion of sirens luring sailors to their death perpetuates the women-as-temptress-and-evil stereotype.

I have collected many mermaid items from earrings and beaded forms to clay figurines. Friends have gifted me with books of mermaid lithographs and paintings. I even ended up co-writing a short film, Divine Waters, about a sea nymph who comes ashore and discovers renewed power on land.

 

Mermaid’s glory . . . a summer story

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                                                                                                                         — Heather Conn photo

I decided to hand-paint a playful mermaid onto some tiles, combined with a simple rhyme. Since I’m a redhead, and most mermaids seem to have red hair, I decided to continue the tradition. This was a fun project which made me want to work with clay again. As a kid, I loved hand-sculpting quirky animals and people out of clay. I hope to get back to that one of these years.

 

To read some of my magazine features on creative thinkers and artists, please click on my website link.

July 22, 2009 at 11:20 am Comments (0)

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