28 February 2019

Welcome to my Studio: Hélène Blanchet, Margaree Valley Nova Scotia

I have a brand new studio! 

I’ve been making embroidered fabric pictures since grade 7. I’ve since developed my own unique style of folk art, exhibited internationally and won several awards. Most recently, my traveling solo show “Calgary Days” has been getting recognition.

Yet until now I’ve always worked at the kitchen table. What a delight to have a studio of my own!  

We recently built a home overlooking the Highlands of Cape Breton. It’s deep in the woods and off-grid, so it‘s peaceful and absolutely quiet. My studio takes up most of the second floor. Because of the huge amount of snow here, the roof has a steep pitch and the studio’s “walls” are the slanted ceiling. Although the floor space is 22’ x 28’, the actual standing space is about 12’ x 28’ and the ceiling is 11’ high at its peak. A wide gable on the south side gives me a bit more room. 

The west wall

My studio is a beautiful space with elegant angles and lines everywhere. Two enormous mahogany windows, cobbled from various smaller windows, let in plenty of light. The views are spectacular from every angle. There is no shortage of inspiration.  

Being off-grid doesn't impact my work. Solar panels provide most of our electricity and  a backup generator recharges the batteries when needed. 

The view to the south

I’m a very early morning person – often up at 4am, my mind all abuzz and raring to go.

In those very early mornings the studio is lit up by three big antique ceiling lamps. I also have   spotlights over each work station. For fine detail work, I go to my fabulous tri-spectrum Stella lamp. It’s an LED light that uses very little power to provide sharp clear lighting any time of day. The three spectrums allow me to switch to whatever suits me best – usually daytime lighting. Its elegant curved body lets me position it exactly as I want and it stays there, always. 

I work better in a tidy space so in my studio, everything has its place.

Two small, built-in bookcases hold my library. Other shelving is made from bits of old furniture that I’ve salvaged and painted up. The shorter shelving units are on wheels so I can move them around as I need to and use the back sides as design walls. 

I have baskets for embroidery floss and quilting threads, other specialty threads, my scissor collection etc. I don’t need a lot of fabric, but I have a lot of small bits, stored in small foldable drawers and plastic bins stacked on bookshelves.

I use a lot of beads, gemstones and miniature toys in my work. When it’s time to do beadwork, I just roll my bead cabinet to where I’m working. When I’m not beading I use the cabinet back as a design wall. 

Design wall on back of bead cabinet
bead cabinet

My favourite tools are my Japanese thimble and my Janome Artistic E-Z thread snips.

I am totally lost without my Japanese thimble. This is a simple metal ring that sits between the knuckles on the top part of my finger. It allows me to feel exactly where I want to place my needle and push it through easily - without getting in my way. 

And I love my new Artistic E-Z thread snips by Janome. They’re ultra sharp, always open with a curved tip to prevent accidental jabs. Just grab and snip. Perfect.

My studio means the world to me! Having a place of my own has given me impetus and my creativity is blasting off in all directions.  Perhaps the biggest advantage is being able to work whenever I want, for however long I want, without interruption or fear of disturbing anyone. 

I’ve been trying my hand at abstraction for a couple of years, and having this quiet space is allowing me to pursue that. I’ve recently started a collaboration with two other textile artists, and my contribution will be in abstracted forms. I’m not sure where all this will lead me, but I am enjoying the ride. Here’s a sneak preview.

                              The Pond Nos 1-4, Work in progress

Thanks for dropping by...                                                              

Read more about Hélène on our own 2016 feature interview Folk art in big nature.

Read a review of Hélène Blanchet's current show at the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design, on view until the end of March 2019.

25 February 2019

Please welcome Kristi Farrier: Our new Atlantic Region Representative to SAQA

Fibre artist Kristi Farrier will be replacing Regina Marzlin, our current regional rep, at the end of the month. Kristi came to Atlantic Canada just over two years ago to begin a new, more creative life in an old farmhouse in Middle River, Cape Breton (NS). “I’ve dreamed of a creative life involving textiles for a long time. I’m slowly making this life my reality; initially by happenstance but more and more by design”. 
(Read Kristi's article A Creative Life, by Happenstance or Design.)

Kristi’s artwork is a visual interpretation of life events, experiences and emotions. Most often abstract, her pieces feature graphic geometric shapes and grids.

When March Dreams of July (detail) by Kristi Farrier (2017)

Regina Marzlin, our rep and leader over the past three years, is moving on to new adventures in textile art. Thank you, Regina, for your constant support and energy. 

Here are Regina’s thoughts on her successor: 
"Kristi’s professional background will be a great asset in leading our group. She has a Masters degree in Public Administration and has worked with both government and non-profit groups on the municipal and federal levels, implementing programs, developing policy and doing research. 

In addition to art quilting, Kristi is passionate about making paper from flax and other natural fibres. Her enthusiasm for all things fibre art, together with the leadership skills she acquired in her past career are strong assets she brings to the art quilting community in Atlantic Canada. 

Kristi is eager to get to know as many Atlantic region SAQA members and prospective members as possible. Please support her as she takes on this new role. We thank Kristi for taking on this demanding volunteer position for our benefit."  

Get to Know Kristi Farrier

Read our 2017 feature interview: Introducing….Kristi Farrier 

Follow Kristi on Instagram and on her blog, Mirth 365.

Read Kristi's article: A Creative life, by Happenstance or Design, on Anna Hergert’s blog.

15 February 2019

Reflections from our Curator

Heather Loney joined SAQA in 2011, after seeing a SAQA trunk show at a Mayflower Guild retreat. She has since participated in all three SAQA Atlantic exhibitions and was curator for our most recent travelling show, Transitions. Today, Heather shares some of her thoughts about her curatorial experience and some suggestions for future curators. 

Publicity for Transitions, artwork by Helene Blanchet

How would you describe the role of curator for SAQA Atlantic exhibitions?

There are several roles involved in running an art show for SAQA Atlantic.

The first involves the art pieces: Selecting and describing the theme, deciding on the number, size and form of pieces to be accepted, dates for entries, jury completion and receiving artwork. Later, seeking help from members for getting the pieces to and from the galleries as well as hanging and taking down the shows.

Another role deals with the galleries: Researching gallery requirements and preparing proposals accordingly; adjusting to their timelines and maintaining contact both before and during the shows.

A third role is publicity: Creating a poster and written material to inform the public about the exhibits. 

What have you learned about the value of these exhibitions to SAQA members? 

For many of our members, selling art quilts is their livelihood. Not only do our shows help them reach a public market for their work, but they also educate the public about quilts as art.

What did you most enjoy about the role of curator?

I had the most fun walking quietly behind visitors as they examined the art pieces, eavesdropping on their conversations. I overheard many comments like “Wow! I didn’t know quilts could be art.” Or “Look at the work on this piece. Isn’t it amazing!”

It was rewarding to make some good connections in the Maritime art world. I also enjoyed being a tourist in places I hadn’t visited, during the few hours leading up to each show opening.  

What was the most difficult or frustrating aspect of the work?

Nothing was particularly difficult. For me, the biggest challenge was being responsible for the whole show myself. Although I frequently checked in with our regional rep, Regina Marzlin, all decisions were mine. All contact and contracts with SAQA and the galleries, collection of the artwork and preparation for hanging, as well as transportation to and from their destinations, and eventually to the buyers, was up to me. I didn’t realize until part way through our show that some galleries didn’t do a lot to advertise our show, so that task can fall on the curator as well.

On the up side, my studio underwent a good cleaning and decluttering so I could store the collection (between shows) and all the mailing boxes.

Do you have any advice regarding the curation of future SAQA Atlantic shows?

I think the next show should be curated by a team of two or better, three, people: one to manage the artwork, another, the galleries and a third for publicity. Tasks such as handling sales and transportation could be shared by the team. 

It would also be nice if the next show could be seen more widely across the region. Our first show, Rooted, hung in three galleries in NS; our second show, Structures, was shown in five galleries, including NS, NB and PEI. The Transitions tour included four galleries in two provinces: NS and NB. None has been to Newfoundland.


We are grateful to Heather Loney for curating our latest and most successful show, and for sharing that experience with us here. Stay tuned to our blog for an upcoming feature of Heather’s own artwork.

Halifax in Transition 1: View from Citadel Hill, Halifax
by Heather Loney w28"x h29"

Spotlight on Fiona Oxford

Glorious Geckos by Fiona Oxford (2019)

Glorious Geckos, by Fiona Oxford of Waverley NS, is our 4th entry into the 2019 Spotlight Auction. Fiona spends much of the winter in Sarasota, Florida.

Here's what Fiona told us about her contribution:
I see these wonderful Geckos everywhere I walk in Sarasota. They have become my muses.

The Spotlight Auction is an opportunity for all SAQA members to have their work showcased at the 2019 SAQA Conference in San Jose, California. The pieces are auctioned at the conference with proceeds going to SAQA's exhibition programs. An online participation form must be completed before March 1, 2019 and artwork must arrive in Virginia by March 8, 2019. Further information is available here.

The Spotlight Auction is also an opportunity for SAQA Atlantic members to have their work featured on our blog, to be enjoyed by those of us not attending the annual conference. If you've contributed to the 2019 auction, please let us have a sneak peek at your piece!

05 February 2019

Spotlight on Holly McLean

Holly McLean, of Bathurst NB contributed Chickadee Friend on the Snowshoe Trail to the 2019 Spotlight Auction.

Chickadee Friend on the Snowshoe Trail by Holly McLean

Here's what Holly told us about her contribution:

This is a chickadee that has been eating sunflower seeds from my hand. Feeding birds always brings me joy, especially when I’m out on a trail and they come to my hands.   

You can read more about Holly McLean and her artwork on her blog Through my Window, and on our own 2017 feature
Holly McLean Interview: Overcoming Distance and Isolation. 

The Spotlight Auction is an opportunity for all SAQA members to have their work showcased at the 2019 SAQA Conference in San Jose, California. The pieces are auctioned at the conference with proceeds going to SAQA's exhibition programs. An online participation form must be completed before March 1, 2019 and artwork must arrive in Virginia by March 8, 2019. Further information is available here.

The Spotlight Auction is also an opportunity for SAQA Atlantic members to have their work featured on the SAQA Atlantic blog, to be enjoyed by those of us not attending the annual conference. If you've contributed to the 2019 auction, please let us have a sneak peek at your piece!

03 February 2019

Artist Julea Boswell talks about her new inventory system and online portfolio

Avant Garde 2 by Julea Boswell w8" x h16"
SAQA Atlantic member Julea Boswell, from Frenchfort PEI (and Ottawa ON) recently launched her online portfolio on a platform called Artwork Archive.  

Julea is an abstract acrylic and mixed-media artist, a modern quilt designer-maker and a part-time contemporary dance company manager. 

Last week, Julea had a chat with Cathy Drummond, about her experience with Artwork Archive.

See Julea's new portfolio: 

Julea, how did you come to choose Artwork Archive as your online presence?

JB:  Actually, I was searching for a simple art inventory system before even realizing it would serve the purpose of also being a public portfolio. Last fall, when I was making several submissions of my work, the job of pulling together all the details for the submissions from scratch each time became a real chore. It was cumbersome finding files, remembering which image was the latest perfectly-cropped final version, finding the details of the piece, dimensions, specific materials used, pricing and so on. My files were a mix-mash! All of a sudden I’d reached a tipping point and had a large enough body of work that I really needed a system to view all my work in one place and have everything readily at-hand. It occurred to me there must be some ready-made web tools and sure enough I found Artwork Archive. 

How many pieces do you have on the site? 

JB: I have 32 loaded in my inventory right now. But there are older ones I'll eventually add, such as the functional quilts I made before I started making art quilts and paintings. With Artwork Archive, you have the option to make a piece public, or not, with a simple checkbox. My priority was to get the ones I wanted to show publicly on the site first.

How simple is Artwork Archive to use?

JB: If you can drag and drop images and fill out an online form, it's literally that easy! Once you load a couple of pieces, you really get to know it. There's a drop-down menu where you can choose the status of the work too: in progress, available, sold, destroyed, archived, etc.

Is it expensive?

JB: It's free for the first month with up to 50 pieces. That was fine for me to get started. There are then 3 levels of payment. The cheapest, at US$6 per month, allows people to whom you give your URL to view your site, and that's what I have for now. If you want your work to be available to anyone searching your name, it’s US$12 a month.  

Is there a way to back-up or download your files if you need to, for example if Artwork Archive should no longer meet your needs?

JB: All the main data items are fully exportable. You have the option to export to a CSV or Excel file anytime. 

How does it work as an online portfolio?

JB: This is what I think is really great. I was at the point where I knew I should be creating a website, but it seemed like a bigger job than I had time for right now. As soon as I saw that Artwork Archive could be a public portfolio too - and the portfolios I looked at were all great - I just went for it. Every time I add a new piece to my inventory it can become part of my public portfolio with one click. Another thing I find really good is the way you can organize the work by "collections". I work in different mediums and my work is varied in style. I wanted to find a way to present both my art quilt pieces and my other work in a cohesive way. 

Screenshot, Artwork Archive

So, am I right to say that you would recommend Artwork Archive to our readers as both an archive and a web presence?

JB: For sure. If you're an artist who would like to create an online presence, don’t hesitate. New tools like this make it easy and allow you to work along at your own pace. The biggest job is the initial upload so don't delay, the more pieces you have the bigger the job becomes!

Julea, thank you so much for introducing us to this interesting tool.  It certainly sounds easy and useful.

Improv Curves 1-2-3 by Julea Boswell w8" x h8"


Thank you to both Julea and Cathy for producing today's blog post. We always welcome members' submissions.