Make A Mark

“Make a mark, just to get rid of that damn blank whiteness confronting you. Make a mark and then hope something comes to you – a feeling; a memory; a scene- something. She won’t paint, can’t paint, if she doesn’t feel anything.

She’s thinking too much. She can’t , or she doesn’t want to think when she paints. She just wants to feel it, whatever it is – the remembered experience, the feeling, and of course the paint itself, the brushes and the movement (her body). Good or bad, it doesn’t matter; it’s about feeling something. Not feeling anything is the worst. She can’t paint then.”

                                -Robin Lippincott, Blue Territory

Waiting,  acrylic, plant ink and textile on canvas, 36” x 48”, 2018

Waiting, acrylic, plant ink and textile on canvas, 36” x 48”, 2018

This is one of the the last large scale paintings I made in 2018. Last year welcomed a big shift in my art practice. I had my work both plagiarised and was accused of plagiarism myself, and after the dust settled from both of those experiences it led me to one realisation - that there are a lot of people working in a similar way to how I was working. And I’m not here to make trendy work, I’m here to make honest work.

This led to a lot of experimentation with how I wanted to push myself as an artist and explore my work in a deeper way. The thing I kept coming back to is what has always drawn me to painting - the language of paint itself. I am fascinated by the way different marks interact with each other – large wet pours, bold brushstrokes, elegant lines. So I started considering the idea of paint and language together. I’m incorporating brushstrokes that I’ve learned through my calligraphy practice as a way to explore literal language in my work through paint and to allow for more movement. I’ve also made a habit of engaging my voice before I start painting as a further exploration of language - once my surfaces are prepped, my colours are mixed, and my studio is all set up for painting I spend a few minutes reading poetry out loud in order to both engage with language before I start painting, and to help get me into a flow state. You can see this process in my latest Instagram video, which I will be sharing on my website as well next week. I am continuing to use textiles in this new body of work which is something I’ve been doing since 2013 and still feels relevant to me. I am interested in the tactile qualities that are generated through the combination of fabric and paint, and how to reconcile all of these disparate elements into a cohesive piece. There is a story behind every fabric, and my work tells this story as I see it.

This new body of work in progress feels much more specific to me, and I am so looking forward to going even deeper with it in 2019.

10 Years of Painting: Influences, Development and New Directions

I've recently realised that since my work has started to become more well known only in the past couple of years, most of the people who know my paintings have only seen my recent works. The reality is that I've actually been painting for 10 years now, and developing my own style of painting through a long process of growth and discovery. I wanted to take this opportunity to share how my work has changed, where my influences come from and where my work is going. 

I started creating art in high school. I took advanced placement art classes, and was mostly just dabbling around with a lot of styles - some abstraction, some illustration. I had a couple of friends who did really beautiful illustration work and was very inspired by them, and then I also played around with some abstract painting at the same time. Once I graduated I was't really sure what I wanted to do. I mean, I knew I wanted to do art but people will constantly tell you that you can't make money from art so I wasn't sure if I should go to school for something that I couldn't make a career out of. I took a couple of years off school to work, travel and think about what I wanted to do. Thankfully during that time, my mom signed me up for a painting and mixed media class with Shawn Serfas. 



These are the two pieces that I created during that class. They were the first pieces I created that I ever felt were "successful." At this point in time I was only exploring materials and composition, there really wasn't any what or why behind the pieces. It was this class that finally made me decide that I didn't care whether or not you could make a career out of art, there simply weren't any other avenues that I wanted to explore. I applied for BFA programs and got into UBCO and UVIC, and chose UBCO because I knew that Shawn Serfas taught. I love his work and I loved his teaching style, and wanted the opportunity to learn more from him. His work has always been a big influence for me. 



I started my BFA in the fall of 2010. Looking through all of my older works has made me realize that I didn't actually keep any of the work that I made as assignments for school during my first year of school. This is probably due to the fact that I didn't really like any of it - in my first year there wasn't a lot of freedom, it was mostly testing a lot of different things out. Outside of school I was still pursuing my abstract paintings, and created several pieces like these two. Continuing to explore materials and the movement of paint across canvas. I started to integrate these lines into my pieces more and more because I felt that they anchored the spacey, seeming randomness of the pours. 



I continued to work with large, messy pours and drips, still very much exploring materials and figuring out how to best build up layers. I was still very much influenced by Shawn Serfas's work, and as an art history minor I was learning a lot about different artist's and their work. This piece on the left is actually the very first piece I ever sold! 



My work really started to develop once I got into my second year of my BFA. I was taking painting with Gary Pearson and was finally able to have a little more freedom in the classroom. I created the piece on the left in his class, and I believe the assignment was to create an abstract painting using organic shapes. I think the only organic shapes I worked into that one were the curved lines, based on some plant stems that he had brought into the class. As my work has developed over the years, there has always been this strong division between the elements in the foreground and background. I was also taking drawing with Katherine Pickering, who is one of the best things to ever happen to UBCO. She is so passionate about art, and so incredibly knowledgeable about art and the art word. She turned me on to so many artists who have influenced my work over the years; Helen Frankenthaler, Cy Twombly, Gerhard Richter (whose book The Daily Practice of Painting is phenomenal, FYI), Joan Mitchell, and Alice Baber, just to name a few. 

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2013 - 2014

2013 - 2014

In 2013 I got the opportunity to go study painting, drawing and art history at UCLA for 1 year. All of the pieces above are from that time, and as you can see my work went through several large changes for a couple of reasons. Being at a school where I didn't know anyone gave me the opportunity to play around with my work and experiment, because I didn't care what anyone thought of me or my work. It was incredibly liberating to be in a new environment and get the opportunity to focus on my work and not be distracted by outside influences. The materials I used also changed quite a bit during this time because I was on a very tight budget - as a Canadian student, I didn't have a VISA to be able to get a job in the US. So I started getting really thrifty with my material choices. I purchased old sheets from thrift stores and painted on those instead of on canvas. I bought off-spec house paints from hardware stores for really cheap, so I had no real control over the colours that I was using.  I started doing large pours of this latex paint onto plastic sheeting, and then I would peel these huge sections of paint off and fix them to any discarded surface that I could find to create paintings that had a sculptural feel to them. I used fabric in place of paint as a way of covering a large surface area without having to spend so much money on paint. The last two pieces above were created for my drawing class, when I started to integrate fabrics into my drawings as well. It was a huge period of growth and development in my work. 


In the fall of 2014 I returned to UBCO to finish up the final course for my degree - Studio Theory, a course focused on teaching some of the back end things that artists should know (how to write an artist statement, how to write a gallery proposal, how to do your taxes as an artist, etc.) as well as creating work for our final graduation exhibition. I chose Katherine Pickering as my adviser, and she helped me to bring all of these ideas I had worked on at UCLA into a more cohesive body of work. I knew that I wanted to continue working with textiles, as one of the themes I was exploring was nostalgia and I've always felt that fabric is such a huge signifier of time and place. So I made a list of all the ideas that I had worked with, and all the ideas that I wanted to explore, and started creating studies exploring these and combining them. The images above are just a few of the studies from that time. These studies led to the following finished pieces, which I presented at the end of our first semester exhibition. 


I really liked these stark white backgrounds that I was getting from creating studies on paper, but I didn't find that translated well onto white gessoed canvas. I switched to painting on raw canvas because it gave me that same visual sensibility that I felt when I had been painting on sheets, but with more durability. I also found that the fabric flows better on raw materials than on top of a painted surface. I created the piece on the left first, and then the other two as a result of the discoveries I made in the first piece. Because foreground and background has always been so important to me formally, I fell in love with this very central focused composition. I was incredibly happy with these pieces, but during my critique one of the things my adviser and I discussed was making sure not to get into a habit of just repeating the same process over again when painting. This conversation really informed how my work took shape in the following semester.



These pieces are a few of the paintings that I presented as my graduation exhibition. I wanted to continue working with combining fabric and paint in a cohesive way, as well as bringing a sculptural element into the work. I liked these pieces, but I wasn't in love with them, like I was with the pieces I had made in the previous semester. After graduation, I went through a phase where I wasn't really making any finished work. I did a lot of design work and calligraphy pieces, and then a lot of small paintings and studies. After not being totally happy with the work I created for graduation, I wasn't really sure what avenue I wanted to pursue next. 



In 2016, I was invited to be part of a group exhibition at the Lake Country Art Gallery called Draped/Double Take, curated by one of my mentors, Katie Brennan. This exhibition focused on a contemporary look at the use of textiles and fabric in art and featured myself, Esther Gabrielle and Gabrielle Strong. For this exhibition, I knew that I wanted to go back to exploring the formal aspects of my work from late 2014, combining pours and textiles on raw canvas, but still keeping in mind what my adviser had said about not repeating the same steps over again. I started to add in more noticeable brush strokes, lines, and other marks that would make my hand more apparent alongside the pours. I also started sewing the fabric onto the canvas instead of gluing it down, as a way of exploring a modern approach to women's history of working with textiles. I was still working a lot with themes of nostalgia, and chose fabrics based on their familiarity to myself, and what they could represent to the viewer.



In 2016 I was also able to travel to Iceland, and decided to turn that trip into a little artist residency for myself. I rented a car and drove around the country documenting what I saw. I camped, I hiked, I slept next to Iceberg lagoons (which is where the above paintings were created) and painted the whole time. This process really changed my approach to painting, because I was limited by what kinds of supplies I could bring with me. After I returned I was asked to put together an exhibition for the Vernon Public Art Gallery, and I decided to focus it on my experience in Iceland. 

From  Rivers and Roads to Find You  at the Vernon Public Art Gallery, 2017

From Rivers and Roads to Find You at the Vernon Public Art Gallery, 2017

I loved working on this exhibition, because it gave me the opportunity to really delve into some of the experiences I had in Iceland after the fact. The themes I worked with for these pieces was the differences between loneliness and being alone, as well as the idea of searching for something in ourselves. In my past experiences with travel, there has always been a very transformative moment during the trip. I'll arrive in a new place and have this overwhelming sense that I am somewhere new and I am there to have an experience. For some reason, I never got that feeling during my trip to Iceland. So these paintings allowed me to explore why that was, and think a lot about this culture of self improvement that we are currently living in. We're trying so hard to make sure we really get something out of every experience that we're not taking the time to appreciate the experience for what it is. 

2017 - Photo by   Rachelle Beatty

2017 - Photo by Rachelle Beatty

In the fall of 2016, I decided to commit to making at least one piece of art every day for 1 year. I always make a list of goals on my birthday, so I included this as one of them. From December 1st, 2016 to November 30th, 2017 I created art every single day. This was the best thing I have ever done for myself, as well as for my career, and I highly encourage every artist to do this. It changed my work in a lot of ways, some for the better and some for worse. Making a commitment to make paintings every day really helped me break through some creative blocks, and took a lot of the "preciousness" out of my work. I was less committed to making "good" art, and more committed to making, whether it was good or bad was irrelevant. But because I was making so much work, I worked more on paper than I did on canvas. And because I don't always love the way textiles interact with paper, I started using fabric a lot less in my work. This led me to exploring a lot of new methods of mark making, particularly with integrating lines into my work, which has become a bit of a signature for me. I love and use striped fabric so much, so line work was my way of adding those striped elements in without using textiles. I also really enjoyed the throwback to my very early works that incorporated lines. Around the time that my project was finishing up, I took a creative coaching class with Marissa Quinn , and we talked about how I was getting stuck in using this same central composition in most of my works for no real reason. She encouraged me to start branching out with new compositional strategies. I wish that I had made an effort to integrate fabrics into my work more during this time, because I think the textiles are what really brings my work to life. 



I couldn't be happier with the work I've been making this year. Because I have noticed that certain elements about the way I paint have become a bit trendy over the last couple of years, I've been making an effort to move my work in a new direction. There's been a lot of experimentation, a lot of throwback to my older ideas, and a lot of exploring new mark making. Earlier this year I explored a drawing project based on drawings that I did at UCLA, and I've started working with a new process for integrating new mark making strategies in my work. The piece on the left is one of my most recent larger scale works (36" x 24"), using woven fabrics for the first time as a way to explore the rich history of women working with textiles and femininity in art. The piece in the middle I created during a trip to Tulum earlier this year, and it documents plastic garbage brought in from the ocean and washed up on the shore. The piece on the right was a commission I created for a new friend, and it's actually based on a piece that I made in 2012. New and old ideas are coming together in ways that I really enjoy. 

If you've made it this far then I want to say thank you so much for taking the time to learn about my painting journey and process. If you have any questions about my work, feel free to ask in the comment section. below. 

All Things Change,  2018

All Things Change, 2018

Artists Answer Questions: How Has a Sustainable Outlook Changed Your Art Practice?

This month's artist's question is unintentionally very fitting  - right on time for the Plastic Free July challenge. The question of sustainability in art making has been on my mind a lot this year. Over the past few years, I've made it a priority to eliminate as much waste as possible from my household and live a lifestyle that is in line with my values. Now that I've taken care of the waste in my home, I've turned my attention towards my art practice. The way sustainability is apparent in my art practice is through re-use; I'm always painting over old canvases, saving studies to use in collages, and all the fabrics I use are thrifted or donated. As I delve into experimenting with more ways that I can create work that doesn't harm our planet, I wanted to reach out to a few other artists with a focus on sustainability in their practice to learn about their process.

 Melissa Jenkins - @melissamaryjenkinsart


Inspired by her natural surroundings, Melissa Mary Jenkins’ paintings reflect the fluidity of the seasons and the movement of her soul in nature. Melissa lives in a lovely rural setting in an old stone farm house surrounded by vibrant landscapes. Her studio is framed by windows looking out onto dazzling golden fields, towering pine trees, a flourishing apple orchard and a natural pond. Melissa’s abstract landscapes reflect the colours of the seasons, the lines of the hills surrounding her studio and the trees dotting the horizon.

"I have developed a cyclical pattern that involves cleaning and organizing my studio, loving the minimal aesthetic and then allowing it to become chaotic and then cleaning and organizing again. On my most recent clean up, I was collecting all the paper towels, baby wipes and paper plates that had accumulated and something inside me had just had enough. Not only was I disgusted with the state of my studio, but I was overwhelmed with the amount of waste that I had generated. So, I removed the tempting paper towels and baby wipes and swapped in rags from old clothing and towels. But I made sure to only use rags that appealed to me visually or tie into the colors in my paintings. This may sound ridiculous, but I am on a bit of a campaign to incorporate beauty into all aspects of my life and using a rag that inspires me helps me elevate the mundane. This focus on reducing paper towel waste led to my daughters and I sewing hand towels and cloth napkins and taking the paper towel roll out of our kitchen and bathrooms. We wipe our hands and mouths on our cloth napkin and then hang it on the back of our chairs for the next meal (we learned this concept from our very eco conscious family members living in Western Canada). We also keep a basket on our kitchen table full of rags and cloth napkins so we have easy access.

Around this time, I was also introduced to the beauty of natural inks. I have begun to paint with ink that I created from avocado stones, dandelion petals, purple onion, walnuts and purple cabbage. It feels so wholesome and earthy to not only create my own supplies, but also be able to create with them. I have also delved into experimenting with dying fabric from avocado dye and I am in love with my creations. We have dyed cloth napkins, clothing, towels and plant holder bags. Another element that I have introduced at the suggestion of my fellow artists, is to use an old piece of glass from a picture frame to mix acrylic paint on instead of paper plates. I have so many old frames lying around, that I thought this idea was brilliant.

I think the most important element of changing my studio habits is the awareness that reaching for the easiest or convenient item doesn’t necessarily foster a creative environment. I feel as though my world has been opened up into new creative endeavors simply because I wanted to make a change. I also need to acknowledge that dedicating yourself to change is so much easier when you have children who see the world as so simple. They have learned through their amazing schooling that harming the environment is “bad” so we need to change. And while I have so many more elements to change to become more sustainable, our girls certainly keep me accountable."


Mariah Reading - @mariahreading


Mariah Reading is an eco-artist and strong advocate for the existence, preservation, and accessibility of the National Parks. She was born and raised in Bangor, Maine where the surrounding landscape gave her a deep appreciation of nature’s beauty that was reinforced by her degree in Visual Arts at Bowdoin College. The 2016 National Park Centennial propelled her “Recycled Landscapes” project designed to bring attention to the need of preserving and protecting the environment. Having already visited 19 National Parks, she plans to continue her project in all 59 US National Parks. Mariah has dedicated herself to the field of eco-art through a recent AiR at Denali National Park, working as an Arts In the Parks Volunteer at the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, assisting in Yosemite Facelift efforts, developing a K-12 STREAM curriculum with University of California Santa Barbara Oceanography students, and creating conservation workshops with the Channel Islands National Park. She has exhibited work in San Antonio, TX and Brunswick, ME and has another AiR at Zion National Park in September.

"I started my Recycled Landscapes series during the spring of 2016. I was finishing up college and was taken aback at the amount of waste created within the arts. I have always been drawn to the natural world and began to draw a parallel between feeding landfills and painting landscapes. That year happened to be the National Park Centennial and I planned a cross-country road trip from Maine to California in order to move out for a teaching job. I became invested in the parks and started collecting trash found in each location in order to turn it into a canvas. This practice eventually led me to finding single objects in National Parks that spoke to the specific location of the park- hubcaps in highly trafficked areas, buoys in coastal areas, and water bottles everywhere.

Currently, I am taking strides towards mitigating my own footprint in and out of the studio. I am committed to finding ways to have a zero-waste art practice. To do so, I use recycled water to paint with and have eliminated paper towels by only using cloth rags. The surfaces I paint on are either trash objects found on trails, or remnants of my own waste. I have been saving my crusty paint brushes and empty paint tubes and will eventually form these items into a canvas themselves to keep them out of a landfill.

I recently was the Artist in Residence at Denali National Park. The big draw to this park was its connection to the Zero Landfill Initiative. Before heading out to my backcountry cabin, I spoke with the rangers in charge of the recycling and waste management center of the park and got to go dumpster diving for objects to paint on. One of the comments that stuck with me the most was Ranger Bill describing the process of emptying trash bins in the Denali Visitor Center day after day, full of disposable coffee mugs. The process of keeping a park clean is ongoing and never ends.

It took me a while to recognize the connection of this action to my artistic process in Denali. It is only a 10 day residency, so I had this frantic energy about me, attempting to make use of my every waking moment and paint as much as I could. What I’m realizing now is this energy and constant churning out of art was a way for me to grasp the ever-persistent waste management cycle.

During my stay in Denali, I only found ONE piece of trash. Most visitors only witness the pristine park and do not understand the MONUMENTAL amount of time, energy, and money it takes to keep Denali clean behind the scenes. I hope my work can shed light on these efforts and present lenses for viewers to take opportunities to be thoughtful about their own waste in order to leave landscapes more beautiful than they found them!"


Britni Mara - @britnimara


Britni Mara is a Chicago based visual artist with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from Bradley University. After graduating she did some post-graduate work at the Siena Art Institute in Siena, Italy. Her passion lies in making meaningful, thought provoking, abstract art. Her current series of artwork is being created completely from sustainable agriculture. Her kitchen and studio are now one in the same. It’s there, that she takes organic food products and turns them into “paint”.  Using things like beets, cilantro and saffron, Britni constructs completely non-toxic, environmentally friendly artwork.

"The sustainability movement is not new, it is however finally coming to the forefront of media and culture. I try to live a sustainable lifestyle, like every concerned human. I do not eat meat, stay away from single use plastics, and recycle. My two great passions in life, cooking and art finally just melted together. It was not a specific moment in time, there was no event that prompted me to start this series. It simply made sense to take my passion for food, the environment, and art to create something truly unique. I guess the answer to your question is, that my outlook on sustainability changed every aspect in my art practice. I'm no longer using resin, alcohol inks, acrylics, oils or anything that is even remotely toxic. My first instinct was to pull the "color" from the plant and bond it to a medium. So very early on, there is some acrylic medium on the canvas. I ran a myriad of tests and found a way to keep the "color" from molding, or changing without the use of a medium. Canvases I create now have zero acrylic medium on them. I'm unsure how long they will last without yellowing, and I am completely okay with that. The work to me is less about the physical artwork, and more about the conversation started around the work. Are they interesting alone? Yes. Are they more interesting once you learn how and what they are made of? Yes. Are they starting conversations about sustainability? I hope so." 


New Marks, New Growth

It all stemmed from a simple conversation, as all of my favourite ideas do.

I was at the Kelowna Art Gallery in April checking out the Print Triennial exhibition and ran into one of my advisers from university, fellow abstract painter Katherine Pickering. We were chatting about the work and I pointed out a couple of pieces (unfortunately I can't remember the name of the artist that created them) that were screen printed silk made to look like folded hospital gowns. I said to her "For a second I thought those were yours!" And she replied "Yeah you're absolutely right, if I was going to do print making that's exactly what it would look like."

This simple exchange led me to start thinking about what my own work would look like in other mediums. If I tried to make one of my abstract paintings into a sculpture, what would that look like? What about a print, or a performance? As much as I love the idea of working in new mediums, painting is my one true love at the moment. So I started thinking about the reverse of that idea: what would different mediums look like as one of my abstract paintings? How could I represent woodworking, ceramics, performance, even poetry in an abstract painting? 

This idea is what's led me to these twisted up, knotted and braided lines that I've been using. I've been researching the works of different sculptors and other artists that are not painters to experiment with transcribing different marks into my paintings. I've been fascinated with Katie Gongs beautiful sculptures for a while now, and wanted to try integrating some of her shapes into my paintings. I am absolutely loving this new language that's being created through this combination. 

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The next step of this idea is going to be creating a few paintings in response to the work of a poet friend of mine. I can't wait to see what happens there and share it with you guys, of course.