Author: stephcloutierartist

Patti Smith and the art of work

Last night, I saw Patti Smith speak about her new book, M Train. The memoir delves more into her life, memories and the people she admires, and it shed more light into the person that she is.

I’ve been a fan of hers for a few years. Horses has been a part of my music collection for a long time but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I actually saw her perform live. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to have seen her perform at a few venues in the city, and have added her book, The Coral Sea, to my collection.

When her book Just Kids came out, I devoured every word and fell in love with the world she lived in. I have since reread it without rose-tinted glasses, and now I admire her writing style and appreciate the hard work and time she put into her craft as an artist early in her career.

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Thanking her for her work and words.

She participated in a Q&A panel and inevitably, a young artist asked her for advice on how to survive as an artist today. Her words to young artists resonate with me a lot.

She has a strong work ethic, and despite the fact that artists of our generation have more options than what her generation had, we need to keep working and make good work that resonate with what we want to say. It’s less about “making it” and more about doing something that speaks to us.

I want to make work that I like and the reward is that others might feel the same way. Life is hard. Being an artist is hard. But if what you have to say rings loud and true, then it’s all worth it. But Smith puts it better and more eloquently than me:

“Build a good name. Keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises, don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful. Be concerned about doing good work. Protect your work and if you build a good name, eventually that name will be its own currency. Life is like a roller coaster ride, it is never going to be perfect. It is going to have perfect moments and rough spots, but it’s all worth it.”

Notions of Home

I have my first critique of the year scheduled a week from tomorrow. Do I have anything ready for it? Not yet but I am working on it. I am nervous that it will either not be ready in time, or (and let’s be honest here) not successfully translate well. But the latter speaks to my insecurities. More on them later.

I like the theme of the project, which is on the notions of home. The word “home” can mean many things from displacement, loss, to belonging. I chose to tackle the subject by revisiting memories of my childhood, a positive and nurturing environment. I thought about the activities and the surroundings I grew up in, and one thing that struck me was the huge park located near my house that I visited often.

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This park is located in North York and it stretches from Bathurst to Dufferin, Finch to Steeles, and it was my favourite playground. I knew every square inch of that park. I would ride my bike on all of the bike trails. To me, the park was my second home and a place to let my imagination run wild, and to appreciate nature.

This weekend, I visited my parents (they still live in the same house near the park after all of these years) and did a bit of the hike in the park with my mom. The park is still the same but different. Some of the wide open spaces have been filled with trees; some of the big trees I remembered have died. It was nice to be back in it, though the memories I have included green foliage and warm weather, not snow. Also, my memory of walking through the park seemed bigger back then. Of course, when I was a kid, even a teenager, everything seemed big. It was like the trees were 20x their height and for my overactive imagination, these trees were giants.

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So, my project idea includes two possible solutions: to create branches and foliage out of paper, or create cut outs of branches and foliage out of paper. Both of these would hang from the ceiling. I want to do this because I can play with light and shadow. I tried creating the paper cut outs but failed to include bridges between the cuts so the result is flimsy and unsupported. Why paper? I’m curious about using it as a material for sculpture. A catch for this project: it has to be portable.

There’s a lot of self-doubt happening in my mind right now but I knew this would happen. Many of us artists have this and it’s easy to plagued by it. I know a part of me is worried about how the work will be interpreted, which translates to approval from my teacher and classmates. We all want approval. But I’m pushing passed that. 2015 is the year I banish self-doubt. So, I’m still thinking what I can do despite the cut outs not working… I like the idea of creating a forest out of cut-outs and playing with light and shadow.

It’s time to figure out Plan B with a week to spare, and of course, other projects looming on the horizon. I just hope the idea strikes when it’s not two or three days before it’s due. I dislike all nighters and avoid them at all costs but I know that the creative juices really flow when the deadline is so close. I wish I wasn’t so but that’s how it is. Wish me luck!

Hello 2015!

Happy 2015!

So far, I’m liking the new year. I find it interesting that with a change of calendar, a new year seems fresh and full of hope, and that whatever happened in the previous year is suddenly gone.

In my last post, I wrote that 2014 was a good year and it was for the most part, but I was also sad for the better part of the year. I didn’t realize that I was sad until I had a long and teary talk with a friend of mine last week when he asked me if everything was OK. I opened up to him, which brought out doubts, insecurities and whatever else I had bottled up inside for the last few months.

After opening up my heart, I felt much better. Last year, I tried dealing with my sadness in different ways or even by not really talking about what was hurting me. It felt good to honest with my friend, and suddenly I realized that those words or thoughts I had stuck upon myself, were not me and they didn’t define me. It felt good to shake them off and leave them in the past. So, with this, I welcome 2015 and the lessons I’ve learned from the year before.

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The last day of Claire Twomey’s “Piece By Piece” at the Gardiner Museum

My holiday break was great and despite having some good intentions to finish working on my website, launch my Etsy page, and make art, I didn’t do any of that–and I loved it. I had to work but the rest of my free time I watched movies on Netflix and went to the movies, read my book and met up with a few friends. It was lovely. I did check out the closing day of Claire Twomey’s Piece By Piece exhibit at the Gardiner Museum. In all of the years I’ve lived in Toronto, I’ve never visited the Gardiner Museum, which is a beautiful space where gorgeous ceramics are displayed.

As for this blog, I still don’t know what to do with it. Is it a personal blog where I share everything about my life or keep it strictly about art and my projects? I don’t know. It seems to be a bit of both. For the time being, I’m going to post as regularly as possible just so this blog can continue to be maintained and that I can practice writing.

Frigid walk home from work and passing by Trinity Bellwoods Park

Frigid walk home from work and passing by Trinity Bellwoods Park

So, in this post, I’m going to write about my goals for 2015. I hate the words “New Year Resolutions” because they’re loaded words. I feel there is so much emphasis on them and I’ve gone through the disappointment of not having them happen. But I have goals and goals take work. I have a list of things I want to do more or less for the year. I know that some will happen or others won’t this year, but maybe next year or the year after that. I’m also writing my goals down because I want them to happen. If they exist outside of my head, then they have a better chance of coming to life if they’re written down and out in the world.

Here’s my list for 2015:

– continue and finish my Serge and Jane embroidery project
– draw more
– shoot more film
– plan more hiking trips
– eat less bread
– read five books (it’s not an ambitious number and I’m not that slow of a reader but with school, I can’t read the stuff I want to read all of the time)
– plan trips ahead of time
– get driver’s licence
– invite friends over to dinner
– get rid of stuff that I haven’t used in over three years
– sleep more
– use my building’s gym
– sleep more
– organize my sunroom and make it into a studio space
– bike more often – even in the winter months!
– save money more
– launch my Etsy store (why am I so hesitant to do this?)
– continue building my website from scratch
– walk the Camino de Santiago (that’s a biggie!)
– continue to pay down my debt – no matter amount, big or small
– learn a sport
– spend time in a cottage for a few days
 That’s it for now. I’m sure that list will grow or a few will fall off of the list.

You were a peach, 2014!

Just in time to submit my last post for 2014!

As you may have noticed, I have been neglectful of this blog for the past couple of months. School is the ultimate culprit. As you might have guessed, I finished my term in mid-December and since then, I’ve been hibernating and it feels good to do so. I’ve spent my break organizing my messy house, reading, and watching a lot of movies at home and at the theatres. So far, I’ve seen The Imitation Game, Birdman, Big Eyes, and The Gambler–don’t bother seeing the latter with Marky Mark, it’s horrible.

During the break, I had the intentions to finish building my website, launch my Etsy shop and work on some art but as soon as I finished my final projects, I didn’t want to make anything. And that’s fine. I don’t need to be making art all of the time. I’m not a cog in the art machine. If I were, I would feel drained and uninspired to do anything for a long time. I loved my time vegging on the couch.

My second term starts next week and I’m looking forward to it. A new set of classes are a great way to get creative and to tackle ideas I’m curious about. I still don’t know what kind of sculpture I want to do but I want to try and figure this out. I know that I want to do textiles, which I’ve experimented with, but I want to build things in wood and metal, too. But that’s what school is about, right? Figuring that stuff out. IMG_1769 IMG_1745

For me, 2014 was a good year with some rough patches. I felt like I got into the swing of things at school when I started in September. I felt more comfortable being a full-time student but I still struggled with getting involved in class discussions. On the flip side, I got to meet other students who are smart, creative and fun, and it’s been great to get to know them better.IMG_2006

This year, I ventured into the world of selling my artwork and it was intimidating, but it was a good lesson for me. I have a better idea of how price things, how I should value my work, how to organize for a show and how to present it. I definitely want to do another show like KMAF but I also want to submit to more group art shows at school to get my work out there.

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In terms of health, I feel good but I know that I can do better. I had a few scares, not major ones luckily, but minor ones. A big wakeup call was my mother’s cancer diagnosis. I had to consider what I was and wasn’t doing for my body. Luckily, my mother is now cancer-free and has bounced back to her former healthy lifestyle. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that her healthy lifestyle pre-cancer enabled her to recover so quickly. I’m super grateful that she’s here, along with my dad who supported her during her treatments. I want to be healthy like my parents when I reach their age and I know that it starts now. The things I’ve done include eating less meat, and not just on a weekly basis but on a monthly basis, too. I’ve cut back on a lot of foods that don’t make me feel well, including alcohol. At the moment, biking and walking is my only exercise, but I want to hike more. There’s so many trails in and around the city that I want to explore. Also, another reason why I want to exercise more is that I want to walk the Camino in Northern Spain in May 2015. This means I have to start hiking–and soon! If that isn’t a great incentive, I don’t know what is!Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

In terms of friends, I’ve lost a few but gained others. In terms of love, it was a tough year getting over a broken heart. I’ve learned to appreciate those who are around me. I have also learned to stand up for myself more, as well as to stand my ground to those that may dislike me or want to hurt me. I have learned to appreciate myself more and to acknowledge that I am good enough. The latter may seem obvious but I have noticed that if I don’t tell myself this, I forget it when times are tough or just plain shitty.

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I’m super grateful for the opportunity to do what I want to do. Travel is still a big goal of mine, and for 2014, I traveled as far as my budget allowed me to. Buffalo was my “big” travel destination, but I also went on a road trip with good friends, and had many, many visits to the beach on the Island. Nothing wrong with that.

So, with this, I say goodbye to 2014 and hello to 2015!

Art School: Should You Go or No?

I am a day late for Day 7 in the Feel Good Blogging Challenge, which today’s topic is about controversy, but I had a good reason to be late because of homework. School comes first, which brings me to my topic: should you go to art school?

Full disclosure: I’m studying at an art school. I choose to go back to school now because I was unhappy in my day job. I was making art on the side and the idea of studying art full-time seemed like the right thing to do. I do enjoy being a student and I am challenged enough to get out of my comfort zone. But did I need to go back to school to study art when I was already a self-taught artist?

Postsecondary school is very expensive. Tuition rises every year and statistics show that it is difficult for young people to find employment in their field after they graduate. The chances of finding work, especially in the field of art as an artist, is substantially harder. Gone are the days when you can find a patron who can support you. Getting representation from a gallery is incredibly competitive. Art doesn’t always pay well, and many people resort to doing it as a side business because it’s hard to make money from it. Plus, all of the elitism that surrounds art school and the art world is enough to roll your eyes and cry out, “Pleeeeeeeeaaaassse! It’s JUST art!”

Perhaps you’re thinking that art school is a bad decision.

Well, not necessarily. The experience of going to art school offers students with new possibilities of methods, practices, thoughts, and ideas that they have never heard of or even imagined. If I had never gone to art school, I don’t think I would have been exposed to certain types of sculpture or textile arts, two mediums I’m fascinated with. The experience has given me room to experiment is see what others have done, and it’s all very inspiring.

I’m not keen about graduating with debt but I’ve made peace with that. I had no other choice if I wanted a postsecondary education. Debts can be paid off at a reasonable level over time.

Art school gives you critiques, which you need. As a self-taught artist, I was constantly seeking out advice and feedback for my work. I got compliments and praise but they were all positive. No one told me a negative thing, or at least not in a constructive way. This is bad because how am I supposed to grow as an artist if I don’t hear criticism?

But going to school is a personal thing. If you feel like you can do without it, go ahead and good luck. But if you feel like you want more than just learning about art, like experience and camaraderie, then go. Trust me, just go.

OK, that was my last post. Now back to more homework.

Day 5: How To Be Helpful by Bob Newhart (and Martha Beck)

My friend Jessica is a life coach and I have been part of her coaching sessions for more than two years. Thanks to her sessions, I have learned the proper tools to help deal with the existing issues I had, as well as to tackle any of life’s problems that has come at me since. I have also gained an amazing support network where I can reach out for help if I should need it.

One of the resources we used during the sessions was Martha Beck book’s Steering By Starlight. The book is a great resource that provides sound advice, simple exercises and witty anecdotes. If you haven’t read it, I strongly recommend that you do.

One thing that Martha tackles in her book is how to calm our lizard brain. Our lizard is located deep inside our brain and provides us with survival alerts when we’re faced with danger. These warnings were really helpful back when we were hunter gathers and somehow, they’ve stayed with us ever since.

Now, I know what I’m saying may sound weird but before you dismiss it, this theory was coined by neuroscientists in the 1970s and it still holds a lot of truth. You can read more about the lizard brain in this well-written article here.

Our lizard brain is that part of us that tells us negative thoughts. We all have them. You may think that this voice is keeping you safe but it’s actually holding you back. This has nothing to do with a gut feeling where you might be in actual danger; this has to do with the fears that creep up on you when you’re contemplating big decisions. It may tell you that you’re too old to go back to school, that you can’t take that dream vacation, that your can’t quit your boring job and do what you want to do, etc. That voice can be very hurtful and it can prevent you from achieving your goals.

In her book, Martha teaches us how to calm our overactive lizard brain. What we have to do is to acknowledge it and say to it, “OK, lizard, I hear ya. Now, go back to sleep.” Sometimes that works. But sometimes it doesn’t, and you need to be firm and tell it to shut up. This is where Bob Newhart steps in.

Jessica played this video during one of our sessions and it cracked us up. Because the idea behind “Stop it” applies to our lizard brain yapping its head off to tell you that you can’t do something. You have to be like Bob and say, “stop it”.

So, the next time your lizard tells you that you can’t, just tell it to “stop it.”

Go ahead and try it. Trust me, it works.

Passion: the loaded word

Passion.

I’ve always found that word to be loaded because it’s always tied to something or someone in a really strong way. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. But is it a good thing? Passion is great but it fades. But it can also morph into something else, like another passion.

I have been a quest to figure out what my passion is. I’ve had many passions. A lot of them have led me to the road where I am today. At the moment, I would say my passion is embroidery. I don’t know how it developed but the desire to do it hit hard. I couldn’t get enough of it. I picked up embroidery when I wanted to do a photo project and realized that the idea I had in mind, wouldn’t be well executed as a photograph. It needed to be something else, which became embroidery. I don’t know why embroidery. I could have drawn my idea or created a 3D object, but instead I chose a needle and thread.

However, embroidery is my personal passion: I don’t share it with my projects for school. I like keeping it separate. Right now, I feel like I’m on a quest to search for what my passion will be when I’m done school. What kind of sculpture will be “my thing”? But right now, I’m passionate about anything that’s embroidered or textile based. I clearly need to do more soul-searching or just change majors.

However, I will tell you a story about my first passion: photography. Let me preface that I still love it, but right now, photography and I are taking a break. We’ve both realized that we need some time apart in order for our relationship to work for the long-term. How we were first introduced is a quite story.

It happened nearly eleven ten years ago. I was working as a customer service rep for a mortgage broker company. I was bored at my job, bored in my relationship, bored with my life. I had an affair with a coworker which ignited a lot of passion that had not been lit for quite some time with my long-term boyfriend. I soon ended my relationship, realizing that what I was doing was wrong, and began to put my entire soul into this new and exciting, and secretive relationship with the new guy. Both of us were unhappy at our jobs. One day, he had found a job downtown and then, without a goodbye, he ended our relationship. I was devastated. I thought I had found a soul mate. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t think straight. And on top of that, I thought that everyone at the office knew–it was a really small office. I had to get out of there and applied to any job that took an interest in my resume.

One morning, I was on my way to an interview downtown. Normally, I stressed over interviews. They’re awkward and nerve-wracking, and I never know what to say whenever I get asked the question, “where do you see yourself in five years?”…

I wasn’t even thinking about the interview on the subway ride there. I was thinking about him. My passionate fling that broke my heart. I arrived to the interview on time and met with the director of the company. He began by asking very informal questions about myself, what I liked, etc. The interview went extremely well and sure enough, I was hired. I felt like I had a new beginning even though it took me a long time to get over my fling.

A few months later on a break, I stopped by to visit my friend at the reception desk and I see a stack of postcards nearby. On it was a picture of a brick wall and a bicycle and a plant on the ground. It looked simple yet something about it was just beautiful. It was advertising a photography event organized by a few Toronto photobloggers. I found out from my friend that one of the photobloggers worked at the same place I did.

I took the card and explored each of the artists listed. I was floored. I discovered a new scene of people who were taking photographs of everyday life, random things and posting them on their blog and on Flickr. I wanted to do the same. I opened up a Flickr account and with my very modest Olympus point-and-shoot camera, I began to document life the way I saw it. I followed their blogs, liked their photos and eventually attended social events where I got to meet a few of them. Some of them are still my friends today.

Through the world of photography and of Flickr, I discovered my passion for photography. I was addicted with techniques like how to take better photos, analog and digital cameras, various post-processes… I was hooked. I remained that way up until recently.

While my passion for photography waned a bit, my interest in art, such as painting, textiles and sculpture, began to grow and I wanted to seek other artists in other mediums. Without photography, and not having that horrible relationship experience, it wouldn’t have led me to what I’m doing today, which is a great many things including embroidery.

There you go: my passionate story about my first passion. So, I guess passion isn’t a bad word after all. It can drive you and take you down a path that you never thought possible. It can help you guide to your next passion, which is thrilling.