Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Hands & Hearts: An Interview with Katalin Koos

This is the third 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 first saw Katalin’s work at the Handmade Market* and very quickly became an obsessive fan. Her woodland subjects have personality, whimsy, and folklore. Whether it be a crowned polar bear, a mouse playing fiddle, or a rabbit drinking tea, you can’t help but be drawn in by the wonder of them.

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

My name is Katalin Koos. I was born and raised in Hungary and moved to Canada 15 years ago. I’m a self-thought artist/illustrator with a huge love for photography, design, crafts and everything artsy.

How long have you been working at your craft? Tell us about your journey.

I have always enjoyed drawing since I was a little girl. Both my parents and grandparents were very artsy and their artwork was displayed all over the house, so I was exposed to art-making early on. My mom taught me how to knit, crochet, embroider and sew and I spent my childhood days making clothes for my dolls, and I loved watching my dad while he painted portraits of dogs. However I grew up with the idea that art was just my hobby, and didn’t take it seriously until I moved to Canada.

At first I volunteered to paint murals for hospitals, woman shelters and daycare centers. I really enjoyed doing that, transforming empty walls into something magical (and I still do if I get the opportunity to take on a mural project). Then I decided to go back to college to study graphic design to further my knowledge and after graduating I started working full time as a graphic artist for a publishing company. But I realized my real passion is in painting and illustrating so I started focusing more on creating my own personal work and doing art and craft shows locally.

My love for creating art grew through the years and through continuous practice I learned more and more. I’ve never really been taught how to paint. It was self-discovery and painting is still a learning process for me. I always get excited when I try something new, and there’s still so much room for improvement and so much I would like to experiment with.

What inspires or influences you and your work? 

My inspiration mainly comes from nature, animals, music and folk stories that I grew up with. I spent my childhood reading books with amazing illustrations and I still remember the feeling of wonder and awe when I looked at those. I think I try to recreate that feeling in my own work. My quirky animal characters are largely influenced by my culture’s folklore and children stories as well.

But really anything can spark an idea in my head like a word, or a song lyric, or even things that I see in my own backyard. Like the other day I captured a photo of a squirrel eating a big slice of pizza sitting on my fence. That will probably make it into a painting. I’m pretty fascinated with how closely you can observe wildlife in Canada.

I’m also obsessed with old instruments, especially violins, so they constantly show up in my paintings.

To me painting is like magic, it's like in a child's world where animals can talk and imaginary worlds come alive and anything can happen just like in folktales. Through my paintings I hope to engage the innate sense of wonder I believe is in everyone.

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

My illustrations start with a desire to capture a story, feeling, or mood. I always listen to music while I paint and I think that influences my paintings as well. I don’t usually plan much ahead I just start with a quick sketch then I paint layers upon layers with my acrylics. It’s very meditative and I feel like I’m in my own world while painting.

I love the process from beginning to end but sometimes I get frustrated when I don’t have the time to work on a painting because usually I cannot wait to finish them. I have a few sketchbooks that are filled up with so many ideas and lists of things to paint that I can't get to yet.

Describe your workspace.

I don’t really have a designated workspace. I work from my living room at the moment. Sharing the space with my 3 year old has its challenges. Sometimes she starts drawing on my canvases to ‘help’. But it’s an easy fix so I really don’t mind. It’s fun to collaborate with my girls.

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

Being a mom of three girls doesn’t leave much time for creating. I’m hoping I will have more time to do my art in the near future, and would like to transition from my daytime job to fully supporting myself with my art. I’m also planning on doing solo exhibits at galleries and learning new techniques. And hopefully I will have my own studio space in five years!

Why is handmade important?

Handmade items are more than just a product. There is soul and a whole lot of love, creativity and uniqueness in handmade. There’s so much care and love artisans put in handmade products and that comes through. I love handmade, and I buy handmade as often I can.

We have to embrace how things are made and where they come from. This keeps everyone more grounded and appreciative of things. And buying handmade is encouraging to continuing traditions. Everything used to be handmade and I think it’s important to support artisans so they can continue their craft and old traditions.

Where can we find or purchase your work?

I’m still in the process of setting up my Etsy shop, but I sell my art cards, prints and some originals locally at Craft Arts Market in downtown St. Catharines and I’m at the Handmade Market during the year.

My website/blog:

Instagram: artbykatalin

*The Handmade Market is a travelling marketplace hosted by some of Niagara’s family-owned and operated wineries and produced by Jennifer and Mark Elliotson. Their fall show is only a few weeks away: September 18th & 19th at 13th Street Winery.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Hands & Hearts: An Interview with Story of a Seed

This is the third 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 met Japneet, the artist behind Story of a Seed, when we were both exhibiting at the One of a Kind Show. The moment I saw her work, it took my breath away. I picked up cup after cup, exploring each exquisite detail, running my hands over each and every fingermark (Japneet pinches each and every one of her pieces) letting their stories draw me in. Japneet is an exceptionally skilled illustrator and she combines this skill with her work in clay to create pieces that are nostalgic and meditative and that aim to connect us through narrative.

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

I grew up in a small town in Punjab, near a tiny pond in the company of many lyrical frogs and birds. Like a tortoise that carries its home on its back, I carried mine and came to Toronto in 2006.
I love mangoes, the moon, listening to stories and sleeping under trees.
I make pottery, paint and also like making tiny films of things around me.

How long have you been working at your craft? Tell us about your journey.

I grew up surrounded by people whose hands were always making things; knitting warmth, pickling summer and making chutneys, embroidering lush gardens of thread onto hand- stitched dresses and textiles. As children we were often given bits and pieces of material to work with alongside the adults.

I have many warm memories of sitting with my Biji (grandmother) and learning from her to knit. I also remember hand painting bouquets of flowers on bedsheets and pillow covers with my mom and forming tiny birds out of the dough that she used to make our daily roti.  Although I graduated in 2003 with a fine arts degree from The Chandigarh College of Arts in Punjab, my informal initiation into the world of art and craft started quite early.

A few years later I migrated to Canada where I found myself a bit lost in terms of culture and language, and this is when I learned the importance of my own visual language to better connect my inner self with the outer world. I started with drawing and painting and began learning pottery from Joy Eluik, a potter in Toronto in 2009 and have been developing my practice since then.

What drew you to this medium specifically?

I am the vessel, I am the vessel maker, I am the clay of the vessel. - Rumi

I feel that the clay works on you as you work with it. I am inspired by its ability to respond to the slightest touch and to stretch and bend and mold. The fact that something so brittle transforms under immense heat into an object that has the ability to contain our nutrition, our sustenance, is very inspiring.

Clay contains in it stories of all of us. My pieces speak of a few of these tales- of homes, habitats, ecosystems, of people woven together with each other and with flora and fauna around them. My hope is that my pieces bring a tiny piece of extraordinary to the mundane as they sit cradled in hands being eaten or drunk from.

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

An important mentor who helped me develop my creative practice was my teacher Sanjeev Soni. From him I learned that art can be not just a vocation but a source of strength and a way of life.

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

I like to follow the form that clay dictates, I mostly hand-build and welcome imperfections. I explore my visual language by drawing regularly in sketchbooks but once my vessels are formed and fired, my drawings are always spontaneous and inspired by the form.

The most favorite part of my work is that it gives me an outlet to connect my inside world to the outside and vice versa.

The least favorite time for me is right before I start a formal body of work. There is always the initial fear of starting but it evaporates very soon after I start. The journey of making then takes over the pressure of creating a finished product. But I forget that every time!

Describe your workspace.

I work from my home. In summers I love working outside in the garden.

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

The one thing that I feel I struggle with is sustaining a routine that enriches my creative journey for me- and that for me is drawing every day. I have not been able to do it consistently till now. I feel I wobble less and have a clearer head to understand the world when I do so and hence, I intend to keep on persisting to draw every day!

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

Telling my stories through art and being more open to listening to others while being able to financially support myself through my art practice.  I also aspire to create finely produced children books in Punjabi. 

Why is handmade important?

Handmade items are important to me because when I purchase or use something handmade, when I wrap myself in a shawl that was hand-woven, it feels a bit warmer! It seems to have an extra heft - that of a history, a story, a song of its maker, its form and the material.

Our contemporary world seems to be exhausting itself in extracting, producing, consuming and disposing mindlessly while chasing an unhealthy, unrealistic idea of perfection. The wobble or blemish of a handmade item makes it more alive, contemplative and human for me. Handmade items also represent a unique, more sustainable future where people collect / purchase fewer but more meaningful possessions that they personally connect with and where individual makers are valued and financially rewarded for their work.

To see more of Japneet's storytelling and work, find her on Flickr, Instagram, Twitter and Etsy. She's always open to having visitors come by her studio, so if you're interested in meeting her and seeing her work in person, email storyofaseed[@]gmail[dot]com.

Monday, August 17, 2015


Sometimes you should just take off your shoes and walk through the river rushing over the bridge.
Sometimes you should meticulously gather acorns only to fling them all back where they came from.
Sometimes, when you sit with your grandmother and she tells you how much she misses the man who’s never coming back, you should be silent. You should pay attention to her sadness. Share it with her like broken bread.
Sometimes you should cry – just for yourself.
Other times, for total strangers.
Sometimes you should drive three hours to the beach just so you can catch the sun setting over the water
...and then drive three hours back.
Sometimes you should leave your umbrella behind and let the raindrops burst across your skin.
Sometimes you should walk through the woods just to hear what it has to say.
Sometimes you should breathe deep. Breathe in the grapes growing on the vine,
                                                                         breathe in the earth after the storm,
                                                                         breathe in your best friend, asleep on the pillows.

Sometimes most of all you should quiet the voices that shout the loudest
and make room for the still, gentle beat of your own simple heart.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Hands & Hearts: An Interview with Katie Mayflower

This is the second installment 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 first met today’s featured artist, Katie-May, while studying up at Haliburton School of the Arts. We lived just across the hall from each other and could often be found often wandering into each other’s studios to see what the other was working on. Katie’s quietness, gentleness, and reflectiveness were such a comfort to me and I think these qualities shine through her work.

See for yourself…

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Katie-May. I live on Vancouver Island in Victoria, British Columbia and I work in various textile mediums, predominantly weaving. I also knit, sew, dye, and spin on occasion.

How long have you been working at your craft? Tell us about your journey. 

My relationship with textiles has been life long though sporadic. Between my mother and grandparents on both of my parents sides there is the ability to knit, weave, sew, crochet, and quilt, so it’s something that I have been exposed to throughout my life and it certainly runs in my family. I learned to knit and crochet when I was about five, and did both very casually off and on growing up. About two years ago I came back to knitting and found myself fixated. I spent the entire winter learning to knit as many different garments as I could, and found that I was yearning to learn more. In the fall of 2014, I completed a four month full-time Introduction to Fibre Arts program at Haliburton School of the Arts. The program had an enormous scope that quickly helped me narrow and develop my specific interests.

During the program, I had the opportunity to work at a loom. I knew immediately that it was what I wanted to spend my life working at, and upon returning to Victoria, I joined the local Weavers’ and Spinners’ Guild. I was given a loom that was in need of a new home, and since then I have been dedicated to practicing. I am really only now becoming able to actualize some of the ideas that I have in my head. I’m really excited about that.

Weaving is very repetitive and relaxing, and within it, there is a home for my personality, a quiet making, and the opportunity to work through ideas and themes very closely. It takes commitment, even just to house the loom, and a lot of time and patience to learn to weave well. The acts that constitute weaving are all quite simple, but require attention and accuracy and can be challenging. There is a beauty in the dedication, the ritual, and also the pace. Nothing goes quickly. Weaving offers a wonderful chance to slow down and be attentive to the discipline.

What inspires or influences you and your work?

The biggest motivation for me is having meaningful work-- something that I can really commit myself to and be connected to the results of my labour. Simplicity and minimalism both play a large role in my life and that definitely carries over into the aesthetic of the things that I create.

I opt for classic patterns and natural materials, often in subdued and muted tones, that allow for the medium and fibres to speak loudest. I like functional, simple pieces, those that can be used easily and comfortably, the things that become an extension of the self.

Tell us about your process.

Craft is very ritualistic, and I enjoy the repetition of the processes that go into making cloth and fabric. It starts with a feeling, choice of material, colour, fibre, or pattern, and then from there it’s mainly labour. I don’t have a specific method outside of the bounds and techniques of each craft, and the way I arrive at each project is from a different place. There are so many phases, and sometimes I have boundless motivation and ideas, and other times it can be really hard to figure out what it is that I am wanting to make or what ideas I am working through.

With weaving, there is the winding of the warp, which measures out the length of string from a cone or bobbin onto a warping mill. On the mill, you make a cross which preserves a specific order that the string must maintain as it goes onto the loom to keep things in line. The warp is then, with even and strong tension, wound onto a beam on the back of the loom. From there, each of the individual threads are put through the heddles which have a large eye, much like on a sewing needle. The heddles are all on individual harnesses, and it’s the harnesses that are raised and lowered lifting different threads and allowing the pattern to form. The threads are then put through the reed which spaces and determines how many threads are in each inch of cloth, and finally, the string is tied to a rod that attaches to another beam at the front of the loom. In weaving, it is the setup that constitutes the bulk of the work.

I love the act of weaving, the throwing of the shuttle back and forth, beating the thread down, and watching the cloth form. There is something about the way that the loom and the body combine, it’s quite physical: the feet and hands all occupied in an ambidextrous dance, and when rhythm is maintained, the body almost disappears.

The most important aspect of my process is developing a daily routine, something that aids in allowing as much time to do creative work as possible. I find that having a stable lifestyle is an anchor to the spontaneity and chaos of creativity and ideas.

Describe your workspace.

My workspace is intimately tied with my home. I live in a one bedroom suite in a 120 year old heritage home in Victoria with my partner who is incredibly supportive, and allows my workspace to inch its way into much of our living space. My floor loom takes up a good portion of our small living room, as do my shelves and baskets of yarn. I have a lot of tools that I keep in our one closet which I assemble and use in the kitchen, on the floor, the table, wherever it is I can find a good spot to get the job done! I dye in the front yard and kitchen, knit in bed or on the couch, and use coffee shops to read, write and think. It’s tight, and has definitely taken some effort to establish work/home balance.

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

It seems that making is constantly dealing with the feeling of failure, of using material to actualize theoretical ideas, and sometimes they work, but often they don’t. There is a constant process of revamping the idea, casting aside what doesn’t work, tweaking something to fit better into the imagined design, and often, the idea transforms and becomes something very different from what it started as.

When I learned to weave, I was taught warping the loom from front to back, but have recently taught myself the back to front method. A few weeks ago, I put a big warp on, planning to get some solid practice with the act of weaving, and it was my first time trying out the new method of warping. The piece was more than 800 individual threads, and 5 yards long, and when I went through the many hours of setting up, and finally reached the much prepared for time to weave, my tension was haywire! There was no way I could throw the shuttle with any ease, and I knew I had to go back, unwind from the back beam, and try to wind back on with more tension and evenness. When I attempted this, everything got lost in unmanageable tangles, and there was no other option than to cut the entire thing off.

It was a really hard lesson, but at the same time, kind of liberating. Sometimes I can take things so seriously and really feel like things hinge on a particular project. I think that can overwhelm the process and distract my attention. If the worst that can happen is something doesn’t work out and I lose some material, it’s really not such a serious matter after all.

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

Things are so new and in flux that I find it hard to think too far ahead. I am pretty open to the future and sort of taking it as it comes, moving my hands and learning to try to catch up with my ideas. I definitely have dreams of having a proper studio. I imagine it either in its own designated room in the home, or perhaps a small shed turned weaving cottage in the yard. If the right spot became available, it would be interesting to rent a space in the city too, even doubling as a small retail/workshop space. The point that I am at now can feel a bit isolating- there is so much learning and practice that needs to be done, that I sometimes feel as though I’m tucked away by myself. It would be neat to create a space where makers can come together, and I would love to have the opportunity to collaborate with other makers, as well as to teach. I am enrolled in some classes this fall for pattern-making and garment construction techniques, and I would love to be able to create simple, classic clothing in the future from my woven and knit fabrics.

Why is handmade important?

There is an importance in understanding the pace that the human body naturally moves at and in slowing down and connecting to the results of our own making. Watching something take form in the hands cultivates a connection with the objects that are created, and it encourages a thoughtful interaction. I’m hopeful that with the resurgence of handmade, we can appreciate and care for things that we use in our daily lives, and be more mindful of the way we consume as a culture.

Where can we find or purchase your work?

You can find my shop Maytherebeflowers on Etsy. I’m working on having the shop stocked for fall!

To learn more about Katie-May, follow her journey on Instagram (seriously - it is super neat!) or check out her Etsy shop.