A match made in heaven

paragliding3

Back in 2013,  a paraglider on Vancouver Island asked me to design a greeting card. This woman is not your average human. She has flown all over the world but routinely drives around her home town with her kit, just in case the wind is right on the way home. A teacher, a dancer, a hockey player who picked up paragliding almost on a whim; and then found herself travelling to Switzerland to teach the sport. Because, you know, they are just getting the hang of mountains over there.

Wait. What?

As I was saying: at the time, her son was still pretty small. He loved all the usual things a preschooler enjoyed: playing with cars, riding his bike, jumping off cliffs with his mom…

They already had an original of my digger piece when she asked if I could do a piece with paragliders on it. I’ve never flown myself, but after looking up photos of people paragliding, I was immediately captivated by the idea. The pictures fairly oozed serenity and splendid – no, magnificent – solitude. I saw shots of paragliders flying over oceans in the late evening, the sky streaked with purple and orange, or floating between jagged peaks with wisps of silver clouds at their heels. I imagined what it would sound like up there and how it would feel to be looking down on the rest of us, dashing around trying to beat the clock… While up there, with the wind rushing at you and your body suspended in mid-air, time stands still. As a person whose mind rarely stops racing, I found myself wondering: What would I think about, up there?

In short, I was carried away by the feeling that to fly meant experiencing two, powerful yet contradictory sensations at the same time. The incredible rush of doing something that – in theory – goes against nature, set against the total absence of all the usual stimuli of daily, human life. The ground beneath one’s feet, furniture, social media, stick shifts and traffic lights, whirring fridges and combustion engines. Chattering humans, kids pulling our pants off…

In short,  to fly is to discard all of the unnecessary things that make us feel as though we are exploding with… what? Stuff. Just STUFF.

And since my process as an artist is largely about cutting out extraneous stuff, this project was ideal. Here’s why: I start with photographs, either my own or someone else’s. I look for the shapes and colours that define these images. I pull out the most important elements and discard everything else. As I look and then sketch, and then cut and stick, my entire process is about distilling the information I collect with my eyes, and sharing it with others in a gentler, more serene, less noisy form. Like all forms of art, it’s a way of interpreting of the world, making it feel more manageable, while elevating that which is vivid, alive, that which reminds us to experience freedom, awe, inspiration and the full extent of our power as individuals… and all that with the colours and shapes that feel like love, safety and kindness. Or maybe they make us laugh. Or maybe they just make us feel like dancing.

At any rate, this project felt like a match made in heaven. It made me feel as though I, too, could fly.

So, to those of you out there who jump off mountains and share your experiences on Instagram, thank you. I want you to know that even at great distances, through two screens and a gajillion miles of cables, you bring fresh air and inspiration to this mama, who’s looking up at that same sky, from the bottom of one of those mountains.

Be free, guys. Be safe.

 

We’re motoring!

Avenir-condensed-medium

Here’s a new look at my story. Hope you enjoy it!

When our younger son was 2, he discovered diggers. On any given day, he’d say “digger” more than he said “mommy” or “daddy.”

Then he realized that I could draw his precious machines. Every day, for hour after hour, he’d sit on my lap and ask me to draw diggers. And tractors, front loaders and cement trucks, backhoes and forklifts. Then we we got serious with face shovels, skid steers and rock drills. I was pretty stoked about adding these words to my vocabulary and only felt a little as though I’d been chained to my chair.

After a few weeks of this I went to a craft store and bought some card stock. Figured I’d cut out some vehicles, slap them in a frame and be done with it. I stuck the diggers onto contrasting squares, framed the beast and went to hang it up. And that’s when I found that I couldn’t. I couldn’t because it turned that out my boy didn’t want it stuck on a wall.

Enter Teachable Moment #1. Apparently kids don’t define “art” as a stationary flat thing stuck on another stationary flat thing. It also isn’t something you just look at. He kept his art – and by now it was definitely HIS – at ground level, pointing at it, poking the glass and talking to (yelling at) it. That was in the evening. During the day, he’d saunter into the living room with it, and there it would sit. On the couch. Watching him play, until he needed to go to bed. Then he’d lug it back again. Want a stuffie, sweetheart? Whatever.

I felt pretty good about my boy’s new habits. I figured they were good for his language development. And at least he wasn’t poking or yelling at me. I snapped a photo of the framed art and stuck it on Facebook. Figured that was it… which brings us to Teachable Moment #2, under the topic of, in spite of what I tell my kids, Mommy is NOT always right.

Pretty soon, the comments started to appear, and what they were saying was, “Can I buy that?” I did some research, located a printing studio and started shipping art. It went across British Columbia, to Alberta, to California, and New York. I also sent pieces to England and France.

After the diggers came ladybugs and butterflies. Then pirates, marine life, dragons, fairies, gnomes and fish. Owls – lots of owls – flowers, abstract shapes, geometric shapes, shapes that allowed my hand to dance across the page in big, swooping circles, as the paper curled away from my knife.

I experimented with static and swivel blades. I tried different scissors and found that my favourites were the ones the gardeners found in a bush at our old house. I tried new techniques: sometimes I’d build the artwork up from the page, sometimes I’d cut through and reveal a different colour underneath.

I began to relax into my technique, filling sketchbooks with drawings and mixed media prep work. I found inspiration in my friends’ children, our natural surroundings in beautiful British Columbia, and through conversations with parents. Time and again, we came back to a single theme: the importance of art in early childhood. Art as the stimulus for language development. Art as a visual aid for teaching. Art as a way of forging connections between siblings. Art as an activity, a safe place, a way of being.

Gradually, though, the dividing line between “children’s art” and “art for adults” became blurred. I stopped referring to my work as Modern Art For Kids and started calling it Modern Art. I diversified into greeting cards in two sizes, sold my work at markets and to numerous retailers in the Vancouver area.

By late 2015, I realized that I needed to expand my wee empire. Within a few weeks, I had 250+ followers on Instagram. Thanks to the example set by more established Instagrammers, I’ve developed what I hope will be an efficient, sassy, quirky-yet-ruthless approach to social media. New branding followed in early 2016 with a new logo, press releases, a sales event, a long term marketing strategy and business plan.

I’ve found my groove and I’m not about to fold. Actually, I’m ready to score. Do join me! It’ll be a slice.

Shula

@niftyscissors