Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Hands & Hearts: An Interview with Julia Luymes

Hands & Hearts is an interview series showcasing various Canadian artists and delving into who they are, what they make, and why they do what they do. Today I'm featuring the photography of artist Julia Luymes.

I met Julia while studying at Haliburton School of the Arts where I couldn't help but be drawn in by her intriguing work - her cyanotypes especially! Julia has a bright spirit and a fascinating vision. Are you ready to be ensnared? Because her photography will cast a spell over you...

Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.

My name is Julia Luymes and I enjoy living in Peterborough, ON where I grew up. I use a variety of artistic mediums but am at present focused on digital photography and seasonally creating cyanotypes.

How long have you been a photographer? Tell us about your journey.

My artistic background consists mainly of painting, whether it be watercolour, acrylic, or oil. Only recently have I become immersed in this frontier of photographic processes.

While studying at Haliburton School of the Arts in 2013, I had the opportunity to learn how to develop and print a photo in the dark room. I remember the moment, crushed in between students in that hot claustrophobic room, when I watched a photograph develop before my eyes for the first time. I thought to myself, “I HAVE to do this.” and decided in that moment to throw caution to the wind. I embraced this new love and took Photo Arts to complete my diploma instead of drawing and painting where I felt more comfortable.

As intense as the Photo Arts program was, I learned so much. Delving into analog photography helped me think about the “why” behind what I’m photographing. When you have to painstakingly develop and print the photos you take all by hand, you think more about what you’re taking a photo of and if it’s really worth it. This has affected how I shoot digitally. I try to put more thought into the moment and choose an angle I’m happy with rather than taking multiple shots and having to sort through them later. I really enjoyed experimenting in the dark room during school, but recognized the affect the chemicals were having on my health. I was sick abnormally often and so decided to pursue more digital than analog in my everyday work.

When we learned how to create cyanotypes, I was obsessed. I connected instantly with the simplicity of the blue & white and the textural quality of the prints. For the rest of the semester, I spent all the time I could spare experimenting with cyanotypes. This summer I found the chemicals to make my own formula and have been printing cyanos whenever the sun is out.

Have you had any mentors? Who are they and how have they helped shape you? What inspires or influences you and your work?

My biggest mentor is God. The closer I draw to Him, the more I am inspired to create. I see so much beauty in our world. I’m obsessed with qualities of light, shadows, reflections, shapes, the cycles of nature, and dreams. I love the little details of everyday life.

Tell us about your process. Do you have a favourite part? A least favourite part?
No matter what I’m doing creatively, I have to organize everything first. My space has to be visually organized in order for me to organize my thoughts and ideas mentally. I’ve come to embrace this and take it into consideration when starting a project. Even the way in which I am about to answer your questions need to be organized into sections…

1) Cyanotypes:

There are so many steps! First of all, I combine ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide with water to create a light-sensitive formula. This is my least favourite part because you have to be very precise with the measurements and be careful to not inhale or allow the chemicals to contaminate anything.

My 2nd step is choosing a subject. I’ve used large negatives of my own digital images, but usually go for a walk in the woods and pick up anything that interests me. There’s something about using the elements of nature to make a print. It’s so magically organic.

The 3rd step is painting watercolour paper with the prepared chemical formula. I love doing this because I feel that I am embracing my past love of watercolour but using it in a new way. I usually have an idea of which plants or negatives I want to use in relationship with the painted paper, but often change my mind when it comes to the next step.

The 4th step is matching the dried paper to the subject. I so enjoy experimenting with positioning of the subjects and deciding which paint strokes have the best connection with the object. I try not to overthink this part but simply follow my instincts.

The 5th step is securing the paper & subject and placing it out in strong sunlight to expose. Using the sun to expose the prints is tricky because you have to watch to see if the quality of sunlight changes based on the time of day or clouds. Making cyanotypes this way can only be done in the summer and early fall because of the sunlight. This time of the year is very precious and important to me because it changes the context of my prints and allows me to connect with nature in a very specific way. I love the experience of soaking in the rays of the sun and watching them slowly alter the quality of my prints.

The 6th and final step is rinsing and drying the prints. I can never predict exactly how a print will turn out until this point so it’s exciting to see the exact colour, sharpness, and complete feel of the print.

2) Digital photography: 

My process is very sporadic. Sometimes I plan to shoot something specific in a certain way. But usually I try to keep my camera with me wherever I go and simply frame my perspective on what I see. I love to remain flexible to whatever is happening around me or what I am experiencing. I enjoy capturing a feeling or moment through photography and illuminating or abstracting elements.

Describe your workspace.

My workspace for digital photography is everywhere and anywhere!

My workspace for cyanotypes is another story. At the moment, it consists of different areas of my home, primarily what I call “The Art Corner” which is simply my work desk that lives in the crook of the dining room.

Tell us about a time (art-related) where you absolutely and utterly failed and what you learned from that.

I can think of so many examples of this but the funniest has to be my experimentation with styrofoam. I was trying to push myself out of my comfort zone by choosing to work with something completely different to me. I took the styrofoam apart, glued them, tied them, used them as stamps, traced them, painted them, painted with them, poured ink into them, and generally became COVERED in little pieces of them for weeks.

Everything I made was horrifyingly awful.

But I was able to draw ideas from this experimentation that has helped me with other projects. From looking at some of my styrofoam pieces, I recognized that I had a strong interest in the abstraction of shapes. I continued on to create a black & white series, “Dreamscapes” which was based on tracing hundreds of puzzle pieces on paper. “Dreamscapes” adjusted my perspective on myself, what interested me artistically, and why. Doing this series has helped me make bold decisions in how I shoot digitally. I often abstract my photos by removing the context of the subject to leave more questions than answers.

What I learned from this big messy mistake of a project was to value the process no matter the outcome. There is always something to discover from your artistic experiments.

Where do you want to be in five to ten years (in art or life or both)?

I love travelling. I want to visit other cultures and landscapes and use art to share my experiences. I hope that this will become a part of whatever is ahead for me. And of course I enjoy the idea of having my work in galleries and in people’s homes.

Why is photography important?

Photography is an incredible tool of communication and sharing of ideas and perspectives between humans. It is a beautiful way for us to relate to and understand one another. Photography sheds light on the beauty of life, the issues of humanity, and the hope that lies in all of us. I see photography as an honest way to share my perspective with others and recognize it myself.  

Where can we find your work?

Friday, September 11, 2015

the upside of homelessness

I'm a little biased, but my husband is the most clear-sighted person I know. He's the one standing outside the fishbowl that the rest of us exist in, seeing everything that we fail to see. So it makes sense that when he sits down to write about something, it turns out totally brilliant and badass. Like, for example, the article he wrote for the most recent edition of The Good Work News. Here's an excerpt:

"Although the goal of ending homelessness might be a good one, it should not be assumed that living inside and in one place is always better than living outside and moving around. Assumptions like this have been made over and over again by people wishing to bestow their version of civilization on others. To the original inhabitants of North America, the benefits of western civilization came at a great cost. That is, the loss of autonomy and identity, land and culture. But to the colonizer it was seen as a win-win."

Read the rest of the article here. (Scroll down to pg.4 to read it.)

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

at the edge

I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over.
Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can't see from the centre.
- Kurt Vonnegut

Treading through the yellow-green meadows out to the huge, jutting rocks in southern Nova Scotia reminded me of the northernmost point of Newfoundland: L'Anse aux Meadows. There is nothing there except for a few houses and the site of a viking settlement that has long since crumbled away to nothing. L'Anse aux Meadows is one of those places that has, in the words of Mr. Darcy, bewitched me body and soul. These two places - southern Nova Scotia and northing Newfoundland - are 15,000km apart and yet they have that same edge-of-the-world spirit.

After returning from Newfoundland the last time, I remember telling a friend about it's barrenness and isolation. About the harsh ruggedness of the land. He immediately interpreted this as a negative thing, something to be fixed, which sort of floored me, because that wasn't how I felt at all. For him, things needed to be connected and plugged-in (not in the internet/technology sense, more in a social sense). For him, community and human connection was the most important thing, the thing that we all need to strive for, always.

And while I agree that community and human connection is important, even most important, I think there's also something important about isolation and barrenness. Connection can be detrimental, just like the sun can be detrimental. You need the darkness to descend. You need the night to replace the daylight. You need the stars to come out so that you can sit in the deep dark, alone, with just the howl of the wind and the song of the sea for company. That's important too, I think.

So, I'm officially declaring it: I prefer the edges of things. The furthest, loneliest, most barren landscapes are the ones that make my heart race and my breath come quick.

Maybe it's just the introvert in me.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Hands & Hearts: An Interview with Jaci Ryan

This is the fifth instalment of a weekly summer series showcasing various Canadian artists and delving into who they are, what they make, and why they do what they do.

I feel a special affection for this week's featured maker, Jaci Ryan of Jacpot Pottery. We're both Kitchener-dwellers and former bakers/baristas. We've both learned from Natalie Prevost (potter extraordinaire). But more than any of these things, Jaci is an incredibly kind and generous woman who has this rare, authentic spirit. Her pots share this authenticity and are a unique fusion of tattoo symbology and clay. But see for yourself...

Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.

My name is Jaci Ryan and I am a maker from Kitchener with a focus on Functional High Fire Stoneware.

How long have you been working in clay? Tell us about your journey.

I have always been drawn to pottery and have been collecting for years. About 3 years ago I was searching for something new and I decided to try my hand at it after being inspired by our amazing local potters, especially yourself. You recommended classes with Natalie Prevost and after my first night I was hooked. I remember rushing home and telling my husband all about it. After hitting it off with Natalie so well I was already dreaming of an apprenticeship. After about a year of classes Natalie and I spoke about me doing an apprenticeship and the rest is history. I have been working with and learning from her ever since. She claims I was a potter in another life, perhaps that's why it feels so natural. ;) 

Have you had any mentors? Who are they and how have they helped shape you?

One of the best things about being part of the wonderful group of artists at Globe studios is the opportunity to learn from so many different people. There is an amazing group of female potters working out of Globe and many of them have helped shaped me. Natalie has certainly been the largest influence teaching me everything from basic techniques to smoke fired awesomeness. Barbara Murphy helped me to have confidence in myself and is a master of glazes, she has helped propel my interest in glaze techniques. Becky Webster is another amazing teacher whose incredible attention to detail is something I'm always striving for.

What inspires or influences you and your work?

As a former cook and baker I am drawn to creating functional pieces mostly to be used in the kitchen. I am inspired by other potters, the beautiful nature surrounding us in Southern Ontario, and also by traditional tattoo culture. The tattoo imagery I am drawn to is simple and strong and translates beautifully to clay.

Tell us about your process. What's your favourite part? Least favourite part?

I throw most of my peices on the wheel, although I do a small amount of hand-building of platters and small dishes. I trim and then carve directly into most of my peices. Next comes a bisque firing and then the carved parts are glazed before being glazed a second time over the entire pot. I often paint and layer glazes over each other to create different effects. My favorite part of the process would be the throwing which I find to be calming and meditative. My least favorite thing to do would be make handles. If only they would pull themselves!!

(Agreed: handles are the worst!)

Describe your workspace.

I am lucky as I have studio access at Globe as well as a home studio, and I divide my time between the two. The studio at Globe is a large shared space with about ten wheels and several different areas for storage and hand building. We have several electirc kilns as well as a large gas kiln. We all tend to work around a large community table and bounce ideas off each other throughout the day. At home I have a small studio set up at the back of my home with a single wheel and small table and storage shelves. I enjoy the balance of spending days alone at home and days at the studio with the other ladies.  

Tell us about a time where you absolutely and utterly failed and what you learned from that.

I continue to fail at making teapots! I think that I spent too much time fussing with tea pots before I had my basic techniques down and every one I've made has caused me heartache in the end. Every one I have created has been off in a different way. Too small, too heavy, glazed shut, cracked due to not compressing well enough, off balance, doesn't pour. Clay is certainly a silent teacher and the teapot has been my greatest challenge. I'm currently taking a break from them, while trying to work on a better shape and technique.

Where do you want to be in five to ten years (in art or life or both)? 

In five to ten years I would like to still be potting and represented in more galleries and shops, I also hope to be teaching programs and workshops in collaboration with the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery. Natalie and I are currently working towards our first one, to begin in September. I also hope to be a part of opening and running a collaborative artist run gallery.

Why is handmade important?

Handmade is important because it directly supports local communities and economies. You are buying a little piece of the artist and it helps you to treasure the pieces you get and be mindful of the work that went into creating it. For me supporting handmade helps me to remember not to be wasteful and to spend my money consciously on quality items created by like minded people.

Where can we find or purchase your pottery?

Jacpot Pottery can be purchased directly through my website, (I love making custom pieces for people, please email for more details) and at several shops in Kitchener Waterloo (Living Fresh Flowers, Cafe Pyrus, 100 Mile Market) as well as the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery and Gallerie Viva Vida in Montreal. For a full listing and links please see my website, I am also currently a part of a collaborative show called Peony Studies, the brain child of the incredibly talented Andrew Mckay (andy borehol) that is on display at Honey Bake Shop in Waterloo, until September 27th.

You can also find Jaci on Etsy, Twitter, and Instagram. If you're interested in a custom order, email her at Jaciryan[@]yahoo[dot]com. She'll also be at the Aberfoyle Potters Market on October 17th & 18th, along with Natalie Prevost, Barbara Murphy, and many, many others. (I'll be there too!)