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World Autism Awareness Day 2018

April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day, and I’m sharing my Peaceful Sea Turtle in recognition of both Autism (ASD) and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Some people with autism don’t like what the “puzzle” pieces signify in the autism awareness logos and materials, understandably, since those with ASD and/or SPD are not missing pieces that would make them whole, not at all. So, in an effort to respect this view, I am in the process of creating an illustrated children’s book with an alternative way of picturing neurodiversity, using the imagery of the senses, with illustrations that capture colours, patterns and texture. Just as every person is different, so is everyone with ASD or SPD.

The characters in my book are sea turtles, with one main turtle who swims apart from the others and follows her heart. Some of the illustrations (below) have been completed for some time now. Can you see the similarities and differences amongst them, the variety in their genetic makeup and the multipotentiality of talents that make each individual unique and full of purpose?!

I am currently writing the words of the story, and the other illustrations and art are still coming together in my visual mind. When it is complete, I will announce it on my website and blog.

April is Autism Awareness Month in the USA. Each year, in October, Canada recognizes Autism awareness and Sensory Processing Disorder awareness. Please continue to share the awareness literature and logos of various organizations around the world, as it all helps! These days, everyone knows someone with ASD, but they might not know anything more than a set of symptoms for classic autism, which can leave a person with a very limited, in-the-box, stereotypical view of autism. That was how I viewed autism (when I first heard of it), before I went to teacher’s college, took additional courses in special education, and continued to educate myself for the sake of people I know with ASD and SPD. In addition, I used to wonder why I experienced so many sensory issues, but I now know for certain that I have SPD myself. It accounts for many of the health issues that seriously affect my quality of life. So, yes, I know much from first-hand experience.

There are many severe challenges for people with ASD (many are listed under SPD). These challenges can be a combination of social, emotional, mental and/or physical. They can affect/hinder communication (spoken, written), even attempts at expressing feelings or describing physical symptoms; organization (of thoughts, schedules, etc.); perception of sensory input, whether hyper- or hypo-sensitive; etc. etc.  It was recently announced that 1 in 66 children in Canada between the ages of 5 to 17 are diagnosed with Autism. The figures for reported diagnoses in females is rising, due to awareness of how Autism manifests differently in females. Most of the research has been done on males to come up with the criteria for ASD diagnosis, so females have a difficult time getting an accurate diagnosis.

Neurodiversity needs to be accepted and supported. The world needs different thinkers and doers! In fact, the world would not have so many advances in science, technology, engineering, maths, and the arts (visual arts, music, theatre, etc.), if it weren’t for so many neurodiverse thinkers throughout history.

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Happy Easter! He is Risen!

This Sunday, many will be singing, He is risen!! Happy Easter to all!

A few years ago, I wanted to create something memorable for Easter, but how can an artist create a painting that is only for one day of the year? After all, salvation is the gift from God that keeps on giving, and we can celebrate that every day of the year, not just on Easter. The finished painting is very stylized – I combined elements from contemporary art and some very ancient mosaics from early Christianity.

The painting was on display that year for Easter Sunday, and I was asked to explain what all the symbolism means, because there’s so much that can be missed. I always tend to pack a lot of meaning into my writing and my art, so I’ll try to bring it all together in a way that can be understood without too much theology. If I have missed any explanation, please let me know by commenting below.

Now, where to begin? . . .

Let’s start at the top of the painting. An ancient water jug is being held and poured (by unseen divine hands) into a chalice, where the water has turned into new wine (the bread sits beside the cup). This might remind you of the first sign that Jesus performed when he turned water into wine. In addition, near the end of his life, Jesus shared the cup (of wine) and bread with his disciples and he told them to continue to do this in remembrance of him. This practice is continued through the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and believers also look forward to the day when they will share in the wedding feast of the Lamb after the Lord’s return, when they will drink the new wine that he promised.

The Giver

The Giver / 36″ x 48″ / acrylic on canvas

Reaching up through the inside of the cross is a tree (which looks more like a vine, but that’s okay if one thinks of John 15, where Jesus called himself the true Vine, and says that if we want to bear fruit, then we must remain in him). It was intended at first to be a tree to remind us that the cross is made from a tree, since it was prophesied that the Christ would be hung (put to death) on a tree like a criminal, even though he was innocent. It also represents the tree of life. The roots of the tree are shown to remind us that we need to become rooted and grow deeper in the faith. It is fitting that the anchor is with the roots, because Christ is the anchor who holds believers steady and firm in the storms of life (much like having deeper roots would keep us steady and firm). When believers depend on him, their faith becomes steadier in the process.

Now, for the center circle. There are three main spirals in gold which represent the Trinity. The center is yellow like the sun, the brightest thing we have seen, and yet, God’s glory is even brighter than the sun. The spirals in the center and the ropework, or braiding, in the outer circle are Celtic motifs (mainly from Ireland – my ancestry). Notice that the braid is a three-stranded cord and it has no end, again pointing to the Trinity and that God is eternal. (A friend also mentioned the meaning from Ecclesiastes 4:12 – Yes, there is meaning in art for the viewer which even the artist does not intend, but it is meaning all the same!)

Okay, so now, what is going on with the scene that the cross is overlapping? There are two cliffs on either side, between which is a chasm, and the cross is the bridge from one side to the other. What Jesus did on the cross has made it possible for us to turn from sin and accept His invitation to new life. He draws us to Himself, and we can come to him in confession and repentance to receive forgiveness for all our sins. He only needed to accomplish it once, and on the cross he did it – once, and for ALL. It’s our turn to respond, and to do so before it’s too late. Our response is to praise him, offering a public profession of our faith, which includes baptism.

Just as Jesus was resurrected with a new body, so also will believers be resurrected one day with a new body, but only because of what he has done. Believers receive a foretaste of a future resurrection when they are baptized, as it is written in Romans 6:4 (also on the painting): “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” In other words, baptized believers are buried in their sin, by the water of baptism, but they are raised as they emerge from the water into the new life of a Christ follower. This is another sacrament through which Christians celebrate what Christ has done and profess love for him publicly.

Some other symbols surround the cross: The Holy Spirit is depicted in the form of a dove, and the fire also symbolizes the presence of God’s Spirit residing within the believer (just as on the day of Pentecost). The Holy Spirit is the Helper who Jesus promised He would send when He returned to the Father. And he (the Spirit) is present with each and every believer everywhere on Earth. He sanctifies believers for the work of the Church, and he does so much more work in believers than I can describe here.

One of the fish in the water is an early Christian symbol of a Christ follower – the Greek letters spell out the word “Ichthus,” which means “fish,” but it is an early acronym to proclaim: Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour (in the Greek: “Ίησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ”; or when transliterated: Iēsous Christos, Theou Huios, Sōtēr).

The scroll represents the Word of God and was the early form of the Bible (before bounded books with individual pages). On the scroll are the letters Alpha and Omega, another of the many names of Christ found in the book of Revelation, referring to him being the beginning and the end, just as Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. Alpha and Omega also refers to Jesus being creator of all things within time, and the author and finisher of our faith. The Bible itself is a precious gift from God to humankind, since it is “special revelation” of His plan for all people everywhere and of His provision of a Redeemer/Saviour.

And full circle back to the top right where we look to the clouds, for that is where the gospels leave off… this is where we will see Christ’s return in glory! While that time is appointed by God, it is unknown to us, but believers are warned to be ready, not to be anxious or afraid, and to stand firm to the end, trusting in God’s faithfulness throughout time.

If you would like to see this painting in my online gallery, find it here.

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Spring Art Show Entries – 2018

Finally, I came up with 3 entries into the Muskoka Arts & Crafts’ 41st Annual Spring Members’ Art Show. It took me a while, but I did it, and here they are:

Members could submit up to 3 pieces for the juried show, as long as they have been completed within the last 2 years and have not been entered to previous Spring Members’ Shows. Since I wasn’t as active in the past year creating art, I found myself in January trying to complete 3 brand new pieces (my bears and foxes were entered last year). Unfortunately, I ran out of time to complete the 3rd piece that was using the same technique. I will eventually complete it and reveal it in another post. Instead, for the 3rd piece, I chose a small one I completed a few months ago, using Pebeo mixed media products.

People often ask me about this technique. I will explain, using some older photos from when I did my first piece using this process. First, I need to plan it on paper, and then I draw a grid over it and map it out on the larger canvas area. The first time I did this, I wasn’t sure how detailed of a trimming job I could do to the acrylic skins (for fear that they would be too fragile), so the shapes are fairly simple. I was trying to achieve a stained glass “look.” Next, I needed to create the acrylic skins, which was the painting stage, but this was done “directly” on a piece of plastic, so that I could peel it off when it dried and cut out the shapes. This planning stage was time consuming, because if I didn’t like how a sheet turned out, I would have to make more, and they take a long time to dry. Sometimes my layout would need to change in the process.

The most time consuming part was prioritizing what sections of acrylic skins were to be designated for use on the canvas, and then cutting them to shape, and adhering them.  Here are a couple of pics to show the process with my much more detailed “Dancing With the Wind” piece.

As you can see, the pouring medium that is mixed with the paint to make the acrylic skins does dry to a glossy sheen. It is very difficult to get a great photograph of these pieces, so they must be seen in person!

If you are in the Bracebridge area this weekend, here are the details of the show:

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Seasons

In October 2017, many stressful events from the past 2 years came a head for me, and I’ve needed to step back from almost everything to take charge of my health. I’ve been extremely quiet about it, but I suppose that was easy, because I stopped working and stopped every social activity, so I guess no one was able to ask me where I’ve been or what I’ve been up to. I’ve mostly been at home, trying desperately to gain some energy and motivation for the things I have always enjoyed. Since May this year, my quality of life has rapidly declined, and it seemed to be doing so exponentially by the months, then the weeks, and finally, the days. At this point, I don’t know how long it will take me to feel 100% again, or even 50%.

I’ve been struggling to create anything, and I have only accomplished a few experimental art pieces, which I posted to my facebook account. I’ve decided to write a memoir, because I think it will help me to process the stressful life events that have contributed to my situation. So, I am gathering and organizing the details in a timeline for now.

Being unhealthy physically does have its impact on mental health, and vice versa. Most of my physical ailments are invisible, but stress has taken its toll on me in many ways. I’m currently dealing with chronic migraines, brain fog, nausea, fatigue, insomnia, night sweats (not to be confused with hot flashes), all over muscle and joint pain, back pain, abdominal pain and pressure, bloating, allergies, dizziness, and intermittent vertigo. All this contributes to depression and anxiety. Most disturbing about all this is trying to sort through it all, but I’m not sure if I can even hope to get at the root cause. Is it “leaky gut”? I already know I have SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder), but I am not officially diagnosed. As an adult, it is very difficult to find anyone who can diagnose this, because the occupational therapists generally deal with diagnosing children up to age 18. I also need to find someone who can confirm whether or not I have a chemical sensitivity, which is over and above SPD. If I don’t do the research myself, how will I ever know? I just keep writing this down for my next doc appointment, so that I will self-advocate and eventually get some answers. If I don’t write it down, I simply forget everything these days.

I’m finding that my health has forced me to enter a season of life that can be only be explained through imagery. Around Thanksgiving, I went for a walk on the Huckleberry Rock Lookout trail, taking my sweet time and breathing in the fresh country air. If you don’t already know, there was a fire that went through Milford Bay in 2012 and the evidence remains on this trail, mainly further in, as you get closer to the feature lookout. There are still some charred remains of trees, and there are many dead ones still standing, but there is plenty of regrowth, slow as that might be. With the passing of time over the years since the fire, the trail becomes more beautiful, despite the trauma it suffered. That is the hope I have for my health, that I will come through this season stronger. I just don’t know how long this will last, as I haven’t hit recovery yet.

In the meantime, albeit slowly, I am determined to gradually complete more art. I will see what Muskoka Arts & Crafts has planned for shows in 2018. Every year, they put on a Spring Members’ Show, so hopefully, I can enter some new pieces by then. One small step at a time.

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Monarchs Making a Comeback

Remember the milkweed plants that I mentioned were nearly as tall as me and growing by the door to enter our house? Well, they keep coming back. When we moved in 2015, my husband yanked them all out, and they came back in the spring of 2016. I decided to leave a few to grow for a little while, at least until they flowered, and then I would decide their fate. What I didn’t expect was that my husband would tell me one day that there were some caterpillars on the leaves. I rushed outside to see for myself, lifting up the leaves to see their undersides, and I was pleasantly surprised to see Monarch butterfly caterpillars!

 

Of course, I couldn’t resist finding a container to care for them. It was late August 2016 and there were mud wasps buzzing all over the place, with their tunnels under all the rocks near the entryway to our house. We eventually found something to take care of that problem, but in the meantime, I knew that they prey on Monarch caterpillars, so I had to ensure whatever I could find would survive and have a chance to make the long trek to Mexico.

Obviously, I was thrilled to see all 6 of my finds mature, pupate, and transform into beautiful Monarch butterflies (all males). Bear with me on the videos of the pupation. It was fuzzy at the beginning, but I was recording it through hazy plastic. I could only stop and start the recording again, and the second part below is much clearer. In fact, I was incredibly lucky to have caught the whole 2 minute process. Every other time I’ve tried to witness this, I’ve missed it, and only came on the scene when the green pupa was already formed but still wriggling.

 

 

The following summer, being this year (2017), I found more than 25 caterpillars over time. I had 22 at one time, and released them as they emerged from their chrysalises (or chrysalides), and I added a few more, totalling 25 in all. The mud wasps were back, which had to be dealt with. I couldn’t keep any more caterpillars, as I didn’t have room, so even though I kept finding more on the plants, I left them as a test and they disappeared. They became the breakfast of either the ants or the wasps, maybe even some spiders. But, I can claim to have promoted the population of Monarch butterflies, by my small part. My husband was starting to call me “Larvae Lady.” Oh boy.

 

I’m planning on harvesting some milkweed plant seeds this year, as soon as they are ready in their pods. After the frost, I will be able to attempt to make a successful milkweed garden on the side of the garage, so that I won’t need to keep the plants by the entryway to our house. The plants do get rather tired looking after they have finished flowering.

Hopefully, if the new plants come up, the Monarchs will find them, but we will see. I’d hate to remove plants that they “expect” to find when they return. Just how do they know? If any of the ones I released makes it to Mexico (for its first time), how is its great-great grand-butterfly supposed to find my garden (for its first time)? It is all certainly an incredible mystery.

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Wildlife of Muskoka

I suppose I’m not that different sometimes from the elusive wildlife of Muskoka. If I could live farther into the woods and near water, I would, but I’d still have to venture into town for supplies, and of course, to connect with people from time to time. Well, I say sometimes, because I probably don’t get enough time to myself to create. Every week day, I come home from the busyness of full-time work and find it difficult to wind down and create art or write. The best I can do is get my gardening gloves on and tend to my gardens surrounding my house, and then relax and take in the peace and harmony of the perennials, the butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and other birds. When winter sets in, however, I have only the bay window that looks out back.

When we moved to Bracebridge a couple of years ago, we chose a home within the city limits that offered the best of both worlds, country within the city. We had enough of 40′ wide city lots, but we enjoyed the benefits of municipal water and sewers, versus ending up with poor well water and septic issues. We were just basing this on past experience, our own or others we knew. But we really didn’t know what to expect in this new area to which we were moving, as we didn’t know anyone except my husband’s sister and her family, but they live on lakefront property.  Within Bracebridge, some homes are equipped with natural gas heating as well, so that was another draw toward the home we purchased. We figured on fixing up this home and eventually finding a rural property. We didn’t expect to grow to like this place so much.

When I am home on the weekends, I spend a lot of time in our backyard. As mentioned, my gardens surround the house, but there is a garden in the back that goes 16 feet up a hillside and it spans over 50 feet wide. This garden just looks better all the time as the new plants become established. Beyond it is forest, and beyond that is the yard of a home on the cul-de-sac behind us, but we can’t see it in the summertime when the woods have filled out. Our yard is private enough that we don’t see our neighbours beside us when we are in the back.

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June 2017 – new plants and established ones

In the past year, we have had many sightings of other wildlife, more unexpected visitors than we thought were possible within the city, but our home is very much on the outer edge of Bracebridge. Several times, we have seen black bears come through, last October especially, but we also saw one this past July in front of our garage. These sightings inspired me to create a few paintings for the Muskoka Arts & Crafts’ Spring Members’ Show earlier this year, two of which are below.

Each piece is 36″ x 36″. As usual, I try to create something very different from what I see other artists are doing. I enjoy being innovative and exploring with mediums. These were made with acrylic paint and acrylic fluid and gel mediums. I used a matte gel to build up the fur and I shaped it with sculpting tools to give the fur texture. Most people want to touch the fur when they see the paintings. Viewers notice the curiosity in the eyes of the fox pup and the anxiousness of the bear cub, as they look out from the canvas. The mother fox and bear are confident and aware, seeming to ignore the human viewer, but ready at a moment’s notice to call their young and protect them.

When we see these fantastic creatures on our property, or the evidence of their passing, we respect them and keep our distance. I’ve missed getting photos of them, for obvious reasons, as they are gone before I can get my camera (except the deer and the wild turkeys). We don’t leave out any garbage or compost for them to encourage them at all, but in the wintertime we can’t stop the foxes from checking for mice in our window wells, not that we’ve had any mice get in our house, but maybe they are keeping the population down.

If we do ever have the urge to move from our current property, the next place will need to promise as much, or more, in way of nature sightings. We may not live on waterfront, but we do currently live across the road from the Muskoka River (in the front) and near a swamp (across the road in the back).

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Northern Adventures and Inspiration

For nearly 20 years, we had been vacationing in the north, before we decided to live here. To be more clear, I should explain that my idea of the north was really Central Ontario, not Northern Ontario. A 4-hour drive was long enough for this South-Western Ontario-born, small town girl who does not love the cold. But it really does take at least a 4 hour drive from London to “arrive” in Ontario’s Cottage Country. The air itself always seems to change not long after we drive past Orillia (on Hwy. #11), and there is a brighter “blue” to the sky. Granite boulders become commonplace, the trees grow thicker together, and lakes and rivers are abundant. It is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream, not to mention that of photographers and artists of all kinds.

My first visit to Algonquin Park had me hooked on the geographical features of the Canadian Shield, along with its abundant flora and fauna. We returned to Algonquin Park on our honeymoon in October of 1997, but we stayed in a resort just outside the east gate of the park, which allowed us the best of both worlds. At the resort, we canoed on Galeairy Lake, where I took many photographs with my old Fuji camera (below is obviously a scan of a printed photograph).

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Galeairy Lake, October 1997

When you take that long of a drive to enjoy the sights and adventures, it’s difficult to leave for that return trip home. We tended to leave as late as possible, and we’d often fit in a visit to see one of my husband’s sisters and her family. Our brother-in-law has operated a business in Bracebridge for the past 25 years, and they have lived on many different parcels of lakefront property on Lake Muskoka. Sometimes, we would visit Muskoka for long weekends and stay at their large (year-round) cottage home for the duration, while taking day trips in various directions to explore the area.

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Visiting family on Lake Muskoka, somewhat near Milford Bay

There was always more to enjoy, whether it was simple, dockside relaxation or activities to be had on the lake. Other times, we went on excursions to make memories. Back in 2004 on one of our trips to Lake Muskoka, we took our kids out for a daytrip to a wildlife sanctuary, not far from Orillia. We saw nearly every large animal from this habitat that you could imagine (wolves, bald eagles, moose, wolverine, etc.), all of which had been rescued for one reason or another. Other excursions included the canopy walk in the Haliburton forest, and many, many artist studio tours.

When we moved to Muskoka in September of 2015, we were expecting another adventure of sorts, but it unfolded a little differently, because we now lived in Muskoka year-round. Previously, we always visited during the summer months or up until the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend in October. That September was a busy month of unpacking, helping the kids settle in to new schools (grades, 10, 9 and 7), and getting our house ready for the long winter. The breezeway was being converted to a fully insulated and finished “mudroom” entryway with laundry and a closet for a family of 5. There was no way we could deal with all 5 of us using the front door with all our boots and coats, not to mention the dirt, snow and salt. And our boots and coats would have become frozen in the old breezeway, the way it was.

Well, it was a far cry from the in-laws’ lake house, but we saw its potential. See all those thistles that already went to seed in the front garden? When we moved in on September 1st, they were over 6 feet tall and they took the garden over from the perennials. Common milkweed was growing, nearly as tall as me, by the breezeway door. On the inside, however, the house was mostly move-in ready.

Much love and determination went into the transformation of our house and property. To make a long story short, here are some of pics of the house after a couple of months. It is very picturesque in the wintertime.

And here it is now:

I’ll save the garden photos for another time. I love my backyard!

Suffice it to say, we are still enjoying Muskoka. My art studio is still in its early stages, but I have art hanging all over my house. That’s also for another post.

 

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