You can fly!

This square – which you will also see on my business cards – was designed for a woman paraglider based on Vancouver Island. This is a woman who finds herself distracted on her drive home from work, because the weather is clear and the sun is shining. She gets home a good deal later than expected, having leapt off a cliff and flown a decent way across greater Victoria before dinner.

I was thrilled to receive a commission from this remarkable athlete. I have never flown myself, and I have that in common with almost all of the people who have purchased this card since it came out. All of us, surely, have had dreams of flying. Isn’t it a universal desire?

I once overheard a woman asking about greeting cards in a local store. She was disappointed to hear that the store didn’t sell them, as she didn’t want to buy something mass produced or corny. I approached her, cautiously asking if I might help. As it happened, I still had a trunk full of art after a recent show. She said she would like to see my cards, so I dashed off and came back with a few samples.

It turned out that this woman needed a card for a very particular purpose. She had been dating a man for four months and had recently realized that she was falling in love with him. It was time, she said, to let him know. I suggested my ladybug design because these little creatures are associated with love in some cultures. She liked it but said no, it wasn’t quite right. That’s when we hit on the flying card. What better way to suggest the risk she was about to take, leaping into the unknown, declaring her love for her man?

I think of her every time I sell one of these cards. I was so touched by her willingness to share her story and came away convinced that whoever this fellow is, he is very lucky.

Slow and steady…

Squamish rocks!

Winning Ticket

raffle

This month, one of my new gicl√©e prints made the trip to New York. ¬†On June 14,¬†members of the Choral Society of Grace Church gathered for their annual fundraising raffle. Among the prizes was a 9″ square¬†print¬†of¬†Sunflowers.¬†¬†The winning ticket was purchased by¬†Mr. Frank Russo.¬†Choir Consultant Nicole Belmont describes Frank as a “faithful volunteer.” Although not a singer himself, Mr Russo “takes the roster of singers every week.” ¬†My congratulations to Frank and thanks to the Choral Society for supporting my work.

Photo: Anna, the choir’s raffle coordinator, holding my print.
Photo credit: Nicole Belmont

Strong As A Mother

photophoto

Monday was a little surprising. Being the genius I am, I managed to miss all¬†the¬†seismic warnings (say… photo shoots and interviews?), so¬†by 2:00pm large cracks had appeared in my consciousness. Down¬†I had toppled, falling, falling, falling, down and still, way down into the silo marked, STUFF THAT HAPPENS TO OTHER PEOPLE.

#strongasamotherclub (go ahead, copy and paste it!) is the brainchild of Tamara Komuniecki, veteran journalist and¬†proprietor of Delish General Store at Granville Island, Vancouver. As well as marketing¬†the beautifully soft, locally printed t-shirts bearing the now-famous slogan, ¬†the¬†SAAM website is something¬†between¬†a gathering place, a celebration and a database of really good people with wonderful stories. So you can see how touched¬†I was¬†to be included in such illustrious company. In addition to which, on Monday morning, I got up to a flurry of Instagram activity and the priceless comment in Facebook, “I am so freakin’ proud of you, babe!” I tell you… there’s nothing like a badass, vampire-fixated librarian for offering charming yet succinct¬†feedback.

I wore my new STRONG AS A MOTHER tank¬†to the beach this week. Kitsilano, where all the beautiful young people hang out and show off their beauty. Of course, this beauty had¬†two grumpy kids and was carrying a camera, car keys, phone, three pairs of shoes and assorted clothing. Also, my pockets were so full of seashells that my pants¬†were falling down,¬†but hey! I felt like Tank Girl. I felt like Linda Hamilton in Terminator! Did I feel like nerdly? No, I did not. I felt gnarly. I felt almost as cool as my two handsome, brown-eyed little men. Heck, I felt STRONG AS A MOTHER. I¬†may be¬†tired, lumpy and distracted –¬†I don’t even know how to use Snapchat, but darn it! I’m cool.

And yes, I’m¬†Strong as a mother. And about that stuff that happens to other people: what silo? What stuff? I don’t even remember.

Did I mention that¬†I LOVE my new shirt? I’ve shown you mine. Now let’s see yours!

Toddler Famous

Framed starfish in black. from Marine Life I, 2013.
Framed starfish in black. from Marine Life I, 2013.

I just¬†heard from a mom whose son has my art in his bedroom. Baby Jake got them when he was an infant; he is now 26 months old and as she calls him, “sharp as a tack.”

I have fond memories of this family. I met Kathy through a moms’ group on Facebook, where I quickly realized that she herself had some tack-ish qualities as well. Her posts were open-hearted and gutsy¬†and frankly, she’s hilarious. So I was thrilled when she asked for three framed prints from my Marine Life series. Her husband has a keen interest in marine biology so it was a perfect fit.

Now that Jake is a toddler-about-town, he has plenty to say about his world. On a recent trip to Maplewood Farm in North Vancouver, he noticed the rack of my 5×7″ greeting cards in the gift¬†store.¬†According to Kathy, he said, “Jakey picture.” Quite right, said his mom, it’s the same as Jakey’s picture.

The thing is, while the farm does carry a large stash of my work, they don’t actually carry anything from Marine Life I. In other words, this 26 month-old child identified that the cards were by the same artist as the prints in his bedroom, all on his own.

Kathy reports that,¬†“It was love at first sight,” when he noticed my tractor design. “You’re toddler famous!” she quipped.

How could I not be thrilled? This must mean that I’ve got a “thing” going on, a recognizable style that carries through my portfolio; that even as my technique has evolved and my subjects have changed, there is a common thread that unites all of my work and – just imagine – makes it recognizable to people who¬†aren’t harassed by my daily Facebook and Instagram updates. Wow.

Jake’s observations really stopped me in my tracks. Nowadays,¬†Nifty Scissors is¬†ordering¬†huge card¬†runs¬†and¬†gicl√©e prints, writing¬†press releases¬†and going to a New York trade show. It’s very exciting but, wait… how did all this begin, again?¬†With the passions of a two year old boy who had something to teach his mother about his¬†passions. With a boy who desperately wanted me to notice how much he cared about diggers – to notice this, to reinforce it, and educate this passion with drawing after drawing after book after book, because he just couldn’t get enough. That was in the days when he sat on my lap for hours, just watching me draw face shovels and skid steers. Then he’d tell me when to cut, when to colour,¬†how¬†to colour,¬†and when to cover the whole shebang in packing tape.

Yes. This – THIS – is how¬†Nifty Scissors started, and it’s how I learned about the importance of art education in early childhood. Not from a library book but from the determined little squidge in my lap, who made me draw until my legs went numb.

Kathy’s¬†feedback reminded¬†me¬†how much we underestimate children of Jakey’s age, when we look for “child-friendly” art for their rooms, or pick out library books – or even ask them questions about what they notice in their world. Jake has spent two years growing, playing and looking at his art every day before he goes to sleep. I want to say “only two years;” then again, it’s two whole years. That’s a lot when it’s the oldest you’ve ever been. No?

So he’s¬†internalized what he’s seen from his crib: the bright colours, the crisp shapes, the squares that frame every image, and he’s taken these pictures¬†with him, in his mind’s eye, as he goes out into the world.

Thinking about how deep¬†these impressions are, on the brains of young children, I feel hopeful. As startling as Jake’s comments are, they are also heart-warming. What a gift this alert little boy has – and what a gift he is. A real treasure. I can’t wait to say this to you in person, but for now, I’ll post it here.

It was an honour to provide you with the first pieces of art you ever owned. Thank you.

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.‚ÄĚ

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‚Äôt 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‚Äôd 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 ‚Äď 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 ‚Äúchildren‚Äôs art‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúart for adults‚ÄĚ 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‚Äôll be a slice.

Shula

@niftyscissors

Something With Boats

Marine Life II

My marine life squares owe their existence to a very simple question. “Can you do something with boats?”

My good friend, M—-, and her husband are people of the sea. They race spinnakers and spend a good deal of each summer on the water. She was looking for a piece of art to celebrate their son’s second birthday, and hoped to find something that felt special to the family.

Not being a sailor myself, I had no real idea what distinguished a spinnaker from any other kind of boat. Having found good photos to work from, I tried out some designs, two of which you see here.

Then I started thinking about what it was like to live on the water, to be at sea for weeks on end, to spend one’s whole summer afloat, with one’s family, watching¬†dry land drift by, but barely setting foot on it.

That’s when it occurred to me that I needed to include more than just the boats themselves. The piece needed to show scenes as they would be observed from the sailor’s point of view –¬†not as if one were watching someone else sail past. That’s when I thought of my friend’s stories: of how her children spent their summers gazing into the water from whichever marina they’d stopped at; I thought of the lighthouse they’d see as they left Vancouver, full of anticipation, at the start of each trip; I thought of the fish they’d find in rock pools or while snorkelling, and the piles of shells which¬†weighed down the kids’ shorts after each outing.

I spent hours looking through marine biology websites, researching the flora and fauna of our spectacular coastline, making sure that my art remained as true to life as possible. Of course, the work I do is a process of distillation, of pulling out all the extra details, all unnecessary noise, until only the essence of the subject remains.

I focused on the shapes, the colours and the feeling I hoped to convey: of fresh, cool water, bright blue July skies, the way time drifts, bobs and meanders at sea, and the sudden encounters with the astonishing, the immense and the awe-inspiring creatures of our oceans.

Long may they thrive.

Big Picture

hedgerow

After following the same template for months – one image per square, on¬†a single theme – I have finally broken loose. In the style of a triptych x 2, I’ve started working on scenes that cover all six squares. Having built up the whole image, including everything – as here – from the soil to sunshine, I cut the piece up.

“Doesn’t that hurt?” I hear you ask. Why yes, it does. Just a little ūüôā

In another post, I’ll tell you about my journey with the monarch butterflies. That was a toughie. Careful sketches followed by painstaking, detailed cutting, followed by more careful cutting, refining, delicate glue-ing, and then: CHOP. Cutting through layers and layers of work in one slice. At first I felt as though I was dropping an executioner’s axe, but the feeling passed.

Having sliced the image into six pieces, they are neatly stitched back together with a strip of open air between them. It is both peaceful to look at and challenging, as my eyes move from each square to its neighbour, as the butterflies flit up, up, left and right, dancing into the pale blue sky, on their inconceivably long, but absolutely necessary journey.