The Arts

A Start in Art:

Guest post by Alice Saltiel-Marshall

In junior high I spent inordinate amounts of time working up detailed drawings to illustrate what I thought women throughout history might have looked like.  Concurrently, as the eldest of two sisters in a neighbourhood of predominantly girls, I'd have them open Eaton's catalogues, select garments and draw any clothes they wanted for the dozens of cutout dolls I made them.

The foresight of my grade eight teacher, Mr. Harold Holden, and his recommendation placed me, an inner city kid with poor grades from an impoverished family, on the right path.  Rather than wither at an academic high school, I thrived in Central Technical School's high school special art program.  Being blue collar, my parents thought this was cool.  

Neil Sharp, yours truly and Mark Thurman  April 26, 1964
From 1962 to 1966 our class of the same 30-35 students (some came, some went) became like a family. Often socializing outside of school, we learned and played our way through the grades together.  We were keen, budding artists, wanting to excel and this promoted a healthy competition among us.  Central Tech's top-notch teachers seriously impacted us.  Among the staff were Charles Goldhammer, Dawson Kennedy and his wife Kathleen Kennedy, Virginia Luz, Doris McCarthy, Robert Ross (not the TV Bob Ross!) and Paul Summerskill.  Our instructors were practicing artists who continued to explore, experiment and build their skills.  Their unspoken gift was their living example.  We knew they had rich, full and delightful lives.  It was as if they said 'Here, take the art we teach with you;  it is our way of life and it can be yours also.'

Mark Thurman, me and John Williamson (RIP), January 1966
We drew nude models almost daily.  By this repetition we really learned how to draw.  Preparing for careers in fine or commercial art we were taught classic fundamental basics of design and layout.  Mr. Kennedy assigned a project where we mixed colours for and hand painted 109 little 5/8" square chips of colour.  These were then laid out to show the subtle changes in hue when we added white, black and three shades of grey to each of eight pure colours.  With that type of hands-on scrutinizing of colour the knowledge of it became intrinsic.  We studied history of art.  In anatomy we learned the names of every bone and muscle in the human body.  We were taught lettering (pre-computer age) by hand painting classic and decorative fonts, and studied methods of printmaking.

Colour  Charts - 109 chips
Unlike students today, who respond poorly when told to do things over and over until they are mastered, we listened and we did as the instructors asked.  It was a time when teachers weren't questioned.  As art is best learned by watching others make it, our teachers would demonstrate then leave us to work it our for ourselves.  They laid on us the blunt reality that if we were going to succeed in the art world, we'd need to be serious and diligent in our independent work or we'd end up slinging beer.

Life drawing was a daily event, April 1966
In our final year, we were advised to assemble a portfolio of our best work for prospective employment or further education.  Behind the scenes our portfolios were shown to people from the industry who came to the school - head hunters of young souls!  I was offered a job as a cartographer with the City of Toronto and began work immediately upon school finishing.  I didn't know what a cartographer was, but I soon learned it wasn't for me.  My map-making career lasted a week before I quit.  Back then, jobs came easily and, on the basis of my portfolio, I was quickly employed again.  I worked as a commercial artist for a number of years.

Figure painting, acrylic 28"x15"
Fourth year, 1966
Ah, but school wasn't the only thing to shape my destiny.  Three years out of Central Tech I met and married Bill, a man with curiosity and wanderlust.  He has always been a huge supporter of my art-making practice.  In 1972, when we first moved west we lived in a rural area, and me without a driver's licence.  At his urging I settled in to becoming a fine art painter.  What has followed are decades of glorious opportunities and experiences, thanks to art as the driving force.  Like my teachers, I'm happily living a life where art is a daily mindset even if I am not actually painting, and I can't imagine it any other way!

Alice Saltiel-Marshall

You can see an article by the Toronto Sun's Lorrie Goldstein here about the contemporary focus of Central Tech's arts program.

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Taking Flight:

Guest post by Barbara Pryor-Smith

I have felt drawn to artistic endeavors off and on since I was about 5.  Over the last three years I have also come to see Facebook as a dynamic venue for reaching out, somehow, to a humanity desperate to believe in itself.  I deeply longed to find an avenue to achieve this.  Of course, when I was doing calligraphy and pen and ink drawings as a teen, I never entertained the notion that my love for presenting lofty messages through art could combine with international networking on some as yet non-existent social network (Facebook) via some as yet non-existent internet.  Inter-who?  Face-what?

It was a blessing beyond words to have a very brief period of working in the 'Back Room', so to speak, of a Facebook page.  My friend, and short term employer, was the brilliantly talented Sue Fitzmaurice, whose artistic messaging had brought me 2 years of inspiration, hope and vision before my working with her.  She soon realized I was ready to fly from the nest.  I was absolutely petrified, and saddened as the apron strings were cut.  But she was absolutely right.  Within a day I learned my infant wings worked.  I did not fall 'splat' to the ground below.

I took my first faltering step, then another more assured step.  I opened my wings and experienced flight, short ones at first, and now across oceans and continents (figuratively).  I have found growing comfort and ease with developing an artistic style that is my own, and goodness knows color is a huge part of expressing who I am.  But the richness of this experience comes in combining the visual art with the beauty and depth of the language of the great ones of all the ages, to bring a message of love and light to a growing number of my page followers.  I hope that in an era when hate and bigotry have consumed many hearts globally, and when truth is increasingly hard to clearly discern, messages which inspire the belief that our human oneness is indeed as real as the air we breathe encourage us to celebrate the joy that brings.

Feel free to visit me at Oneness Happens Here.

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Re-purposing & up-cycling our Environment:

Guest post by Alison Bjorkman

Picture an average 'antique shop', tables and shelves crowded with old stuff.  Crockery, old shoes, rusty metal, finely built furniture, a wash stand, horse tack, old picture frames, jars of marbles, all jumbled get the idea, and they all smell like your grandmother's basement.  Enter the re-purposer.

I love a good romp through a junk shop, 'antiques' might be written on the sign outside, but our favourites are the nastier stores, a little less refined, more 'stuff'.  It's a treasure hunt;  a sticky, old, rusty funnel, a broken wooden pulley, a horribly upholstered chair (with good bones), a gigantic hunk of rusty metal - jackpot!!  My husband and I are those fools you see dragging stuff out from under a dusty table, holding it up to the light with a maniacal grin and shouts of 'look at this!!'.

This is what our car looks like often after a great pick...playtime in the studio after this!

Each piece tells a story to us, be its history or its future.  We don't usually restore pieces but we can often appreciate what something was originally.  Part of our process is to give new life and meaning to old things;  the other part is exploring the 'function' of things.  We make lights, we make furniture, we re-upholster, we re-invent.  So since a picture is worth a thousand words, here are some stories for you...

To see more, and read more stores, visit Puffin Design.

Alison Bjorkman - About me

I endeavour to live a creative life.

I love many things:  clay, paint, fabric, nature, food, wine, people, laughing, anything French, life.  I love it no particular order.

I do many things:  artist, entrepreneur, friend, wife, mom, goddess - this one pretty much sums it up.

I accept that:  life is amazing - always.  I will never really know what is going on.  Play is more important than work.  Laughter is the best outcome, even with tears.  I will often be misunderstood.  Boring conversations will be narrated in my head by a cartoon character and no one must know this!  I will be humbled.  I will often have flashes of bright insight.  I will almost instantly forget said flashes of insight.  I will be attracted to bright colours and rusty things.  I will make weird combinations of food and find them delicious.  I can never have enough spices or boots.

So, my personal manifesto to live a creative life...

I will be open to the experience of life, the whipped topping and the burnt toast.  I will explore what lights my fire.  I will listen to others and take my own council.  I will ask why and what if, a lot.  I will play and I will work.  I will laugh and I will cry.  I will eat chocolate on mountain tops and drink wine in grottoes with dark characters.  I will be uplifted and I will be humbled.  At the end of the day, I want to have my husband's hand to hold and a belly laugh in the waiting.

Go - make - something!

True love - I make pottery too.

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Music, music, music making...

An incredibly beautiful version of  Pie Jesu...

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