The Chronicle of Wasted Time

Ninety percent art. Ten percent chickens.


Back in the Saddle

Along with all the gardening and animal husbandry (wifery?) that goes on around here, I have managed to make time to produce some new collages. I made my first attempt at an equine themed painted paper collage with the intention of submitting it to the jurying process for an equine art exhibition in the U.S. coming up this fall. It took a lot longer to make the collage than I thought it would, but I was still able to squeak in under the wire and get my entry in on time. Now I’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

Here is the work in question. I call it “Up and Over”.

Up and Over– 20X16, painted paper collage on panel, © 2010 Alyson Champ

This is a detail shot of the horse’s head. Yes, those are little pieces of painted paper. You can see why it took so long, can’t you?

Up and Over detail

And while we are on the topic of equine art, I found this print in a flea market near where I live. I was admiring it and, much to my surprise, my husband up and bought it for me. It is likely that the frame is worth more than the print itself, but still I thought it was beautiful. It’s probably a copy of a Mughal or Persian miniature.

Ian Brown: Rent-A-Ram

We are having a fitful start to spring out here in Southwestern Quebec. One day it’s blisteringly hot, the next day it’s snowing. My rhubarb and garlic are both up and doing well, but with this unpredictable weather, I don’t dare plant anything in the garden because one day to the next it’s hard to know what to expect. I guess that’s just how it is when relying on Mother Nature; you have to learn to expect surprises.

Last Fall I borrowed a young ram from a friend. Ian Brown (not to be confused with the writer of the same name) is a Dorset/Jacob cross, and I fell in love with him at first sight. He was such a cute little fellow, I was curious to see what the resulting offspring would look like if I bred my ewes to him.

Ian Brown

I thought he might be a little small for the task, and he was certainly inexperienced, but then I figured that Nature invariably finds a way, so after a few days in de-worming quarantine, I put him in with my ewes. He was very interested in the girls. Unfortunately, the feeling wasn’t mutual. Their reaction to Ian fell somewhere between horror and disgust. In his deep, baritone voice (think ovine Barry White), Ian would call to the girls and approach them with what I imagine must have been something like, “Heyyy Baaaaaaby!”. And the girls, well, they ran as fast as they could to whatever place he wasn’t. When he saw the ewes running, of course Ian would run too, no doubt thinking that if they were running, there must be some reason to run. Poor Ian, he never caught on that HE was the reason. This went on for several days. Ian would approach the ewes, the ewes would run; Ian would run in pursuit of the ewes, the ewes would run faster; Ian would try to catch up, the ewes kept running, and so on. For about a week we must have had the most fit and thoroughly exercised sheep in the county. It also seemed highly unlikely that any of them were going to get pregnant that way.

Finally I decided to take matters into my own hands. I put Ian and one of the girls, Fionna, who was in heat, into a pen together. A couple of flakes of hay, a little grain, a water bucket, some soft lighting: the stage was set for sheep romance. Ian was certainly happy with this new arrangement. Fionna couldn’t run away, nor did she seem inclined to- she was too busy eating. Ian tried to approach the matter from several different angles, but Fionna continually evaded him, chewing all the while. Once or twice, I saw her shoot him a look that as much as said, “Do you mind? I’m eating! Quit bothering me, you jerk!”. I started to think that my plan was a lost cause.

I crossed my fingers and left them together for a day or two, and then returned them both to the fold. The others ceased running from Ian Brown and things eventually settled down. The girls accepted Ian’s presence, but there didn’t seem to be a lot “going on”, if you catch my drift. I continued to hope. About two and a half weeks later, what hope I had was dashed when I noticed Fionna had come into heat again. I had to conclude that Ian was just the wrong ram for the job. So I sent the poor boy packing and brought in a bigger, older Border Leicester ram (Julius) to finish the job before my girls went out of season.

I began to suspect something was up a few weeks ago when I noticed a couple of the girls looking very pregnant- too pregnant for Julius to be the father. It seems Nature had some surprises in store for us after all, and I don’t just mean the weather. Sure enough, last week the lambs started arriving.

Finneas Brown and Chocolate Legs

As yet unnamed ram lamb.

Congratulations, Ian brown. Well done and good on ye lad!

What’s on the Easel?

I’m still in the planning stage for several collages. In the next few days I’m going to have to make some decisions about colours and papers. For the time being, I’m still drawing. Here is the line drawing plan of my first big landscape collage. The subject is the Port Daniel lighthouse in Gaspé, Quebec.

Port Daniel Lighthouse– preparatory line drawing on paper,© 2010 Alyson Champ

Something to Crow About?

If you found yourself passing by our yard on a summer evening sometime in the mid-1970’s and heard a cry of “WILLIAM!”, followed by a frantic scattering of children, you might think you were witnessing a game, perhaps some local variant of tag or British Bulldog. But in that notion you would be mistaken. “WILLIAM!” certainly wasn’t a game; he was a rooster.

For reasons I can no longer remember, in my childhood I developed the strange hobby of breeding Bantam chickens. Certainly they were pretty birds, coming as they did in a wild variety of colours and with all manner of fancy plumage. I had Cochins and Silkies, a black Polish hen, a beautiful pair of Mille Fleurs, and…. William. I don’t remember what breed he was, but he was tiny and multicoloured: gold on the neck, dark on the breast, with rusty wings and back, and he had a long opulent tail of the most exquisite dark iridescent green. He truly was a handsome little fellow. Yet only a fool would have been deceived by his lovely appearance and diminutive size. Simply put, William was a nasty piece of work.

An interrupter of games and a spoiler of fun, determined to eradicate all forms of childhood entertainment, William was a ferocious flurry of hackles, talons and spurs. Fast and devious, he would surprise us coming around corners or spot us from across the yard and then run at us full tilt. Nowhere was safe. He chased us. He jumped at the backs of our legs. And worst of all, if he could manage it, he flew right up at our faces.

Not only was he a misery to me and my family, but woe betide any visiting cousin or neighbour. The last straw came one day when I was playing outside in the yard with my best friend- a girl with waist long hair. William spotted us enjoying ourselves from some distance away. He ran at my friend , launching himself at her head and somehow in his fury, he got himself tangled in her hair. She was screaming and crying; he was flapping and fluttering. To remedy the situation I did the only thing I could think of: I grabbed a stick and swung.

Luckily, I missed my friend’s head. Unluckily for William, I did not miss his. The rooster dropped to the ground like a stone and lay there too stunned to move. I thought I had killed him. After what was probably only a few seconds (it seemed much longer), he got back on his feet. Humiliated and chastened, he made a staggering exit from the scene. And his pride wasn’t the only thing that he left without: he also left without his tail. Every single one of his beautiful tail feathers had fallen out and lay in a small heap on our lawn. William was never quite the same after that. Perhaps his change in personality was due to that blow to the head, or perhaps he was simply embarrassed. Either way his reign of terror ended. His tail never grew back either.

Almost William– preparatory line drawing, ink on paper ©2010 Alyson Champ

What’s on the Easel

I have a series of commissions looming- all collages. One will be my first ever large-scale landscape. I am both excited and a bit apprehensive about that. Soon I will also start work on a couple of dog portraits. Those are always fun. I’ll post photos of the work in progress as I go. Strangely, the collage commission which has piqued my interest the most is an order to produce a series of roosters. I’ve gotten as far as making some preliminary drawings, shown here above and below.

Pretty Boy Floyd– preparatory line drawing, ink on paper, ©2010 Alyson Champ

Lighting the Way for Others

The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires. ~William Arthur Ward

Painted paper collage art project for children- Alyson Champ

I’ve had a regular teaching gig for about seven years now. Although I have been teaching music and art privately for decades, it wasn’t until 2003 that I first set foot inside a real classroom. There was nothing quite like standing in front of a class of twenty or thirty energetic children to make it painfully obvious that I really didn’t know anything. OK, maybe that’s not entirely fair. I do actually know quite a lot about making art. But knowing, and being able to impart this knowledge effectively to others, especially children, are not at all the same thing. Teaching is in itself an art. And just as a great work of creative genius is something marvelous to behold and is not easily forgotten, so it is with great teachers. A great teacher teaches you in way that makes you want to learn. He or she inspires you to go beyond the set lesson, to strive and to experiment. No, I’m not claiming to be one of these rare creatures. Most of the time, if the kids enjoy the project, have learned something, don’t have glitter glue in their hair or paint on their good clothes, and the classroom isn’t on fire, I call it a good day. Great teachers are memorable. I have had a few truly wonderful teachers in my life, and one of them was my high school art teacher, Mr. Tilley.

Mr, Tilley was an Englishman, transplanted to Quebec, who somehow found himself responsible for the art program at Chateauguay Valley Regional. How he came to be there I never knew, but during the five bleak years I spent as a high school student, I was awfully glad that he was. The art room was a haven to the school’s social misfits and creative weirdos, of whom I was obviously one. My friends and I lived in that room, spending every free moment there – and Mr. Tilley let us. He certainly wasn’t a strict teacher. He explained and assigned projects and then pretty much left us to ourselves. We did things in whatever order we wished and as long as we did our work and made a reasonable effort, he was happy. Help was always available if we needed it, but mostly we were responsible for ourselves and left to learn at our own pace.

And boy did we ever learn. We explored everything from three point linear perspective, to traditional lettering, basic elements of graphic design to Carolingian calligraphy. We hand lettered diplomas and made posters for local events. We painted in the style of the impressionists, the cubists, the fauves, and the pointillists. We studied colour theory and art history from cave art to modern art. We learned a great deal and we learned it painlessly, or so it seemed to me, because it was fun. Now, when I look back over the past (gasp) thirty years, I am shocked not only by how much he taught me, but by how much I have retained and continue to use.

I have read that the skill of a great teacher is like a candle: it burns brightly and in so doing consumes itself to light the way for others. Mr. Tilley has been dead for many years, but his light lives on in all of us whom he taught. One teacher in a rural high school helped to create the careers of many professional visual artists, graphic designers, illustrators and photographers. He also helped to foster an appreciation for art in countless others. Mr. Tilley probably could not have guessed how far reaching his influence would be. That’s the thing about being a teacher. You never know whose life you are changing.

Mr. Derrick Tilley, CVR yearbook 1982

Going Ovine

I’m not exactly sure what it is about sheep that is so appealing, but I’m happy to know that I’m not the only artist to find myself visually hooked on them. I have recently come across a collection of drawings by British sculptor Henry Moore depicting the sheep he saw outside the window of his studio. He too was fascinated by their beauty, their solid shape, and their behavior. Several of the drawings show the interactions of lambs and ewes, which bring to mind some of Moore’s maternally themed sculptures.

Photo © Alyson Champ

While we are on the subject of sheep and maternity, and with lambing nearly upon us, I can’t help but think back to last year’s experience with lambing. It was the first time we had bred our ewes, and as much as it was exciting, it was also nerve-racking and exhausting. Lambs, much like human babies, prefer to arrive in the middle of the night or the wee small hours of the morning. I spent a number of long nights out in the barn, waiting and watching and acting as midwife. The birth of our first lamb, however, I did not witness as she came as a total surprise. She was a few days early, and the ewe, a first time mother, didn’t really show much sign of going into labour. I got quite a shock when I went out to the barn early one morning to feed the sheep and heard a little voice calling out, “Baaa”. I looked around but could see nothing in the pen, just my sheep standing at the feeder waiting to be fed. I went into the pen with an armful of hay and again, “Baaaa”. There at my feet, in the bottom of the hay rack, was a beautiful little white lamb, still wet, and shivering with cold. Her mother had given birth to her and then, not knowing what to do, abandoned her. The baby had crawled into the hay to keep warm. Ewe and lamb had to be forcibly reunited and the ewe needed to be restrained in order to allow the lamb to nurse. It took the better part of a day before mother and child actually bonded, but they did, and the ewe proved to be an excellent mother, if initially a reluctant one.

Photo © Alyson Champ

What’s on the Easel
My collage exhibition is drawing to a close. The last day is April 4th. I’m delighted that my sheep collages have proved to be popular and I have sold several of them. I guess people just like sheep!

Celeste – 9×12, painted paper collage on panel ©2010 Alyson Champ

Julius the Magnificent- 12×12 painted paper collage on panel, ©2010 Alyson Champ
Fabulous Fionna- 9×12 painted paper collage on panel, ©2010 Alyson Champ

The Day After the Afternoon Before

My collage exhibition opened at Salle Alfred-Langevin yesterday. In spite of the rather wet and dreary weather, the turn out was good, the crowd was very enthusiastic, and sales were brisk (thank you!). One woman, a fellow artist, liked the collages so much that she went home to get her husband, came back with him and did the tour again!

So, I guess that my fear that people would look at the collages and say, “Well, these are ok, but where are all the horse paintings?” was completely unfounded. If anything, I was pleasantly surprised by just how open minded people were. Yes, I was asked if I had completely given up oil painting- I haven’t, I’m just on oil painting hiatus- but by and large the audience was accepting and encouraging. Several pieces sold, including one of the large Iris collages. All in all, it was a very good day.

These are some of my collages on the walls at Salle Alfred-Langvin. I must mention the real stars of the photo which are the spectacular stained glass windows designed by Detlef Gotzens, a stained glass artist whose atelier is across the river from mine.
Here is a slightly different view. You can see what a large and beautiful space the hall is. Painter Suzanne Olivier, who is a member of the hall’s management committee, did a terrific job of hanging the show. It’s a good thing that that particular task wasn’t left up to me! Merci Suzanne!
And last but by no means least, here is a photo of Luc and me. Luc De Tremmerie is the coordinator of cultural events at Salle Alfred-Langevin, which means that he’s the one who really does all the work. Luc, je ne sais pas comment te remercier…

Bearded Beauties

I like Irises and grow several varieties in my flower beds. They are a graceful, stately flower with elegant and sculptural blooms which make them interesting subjects for my collages. Last summer I made a point of photographing all of my irises when they were at the height of their beauty and these images have kept me going (art-wise) over the winter. So far, I have produced seven iris collages of varying sizes, all of which will be on display at my solo exhibition.

What’s on the Easel
This second purple iris collage is close in colour range to my first Purple Iris collage, but the scale is just a little smaller. It’s a 20X16, instead of a 20X24.

Purple Iris II, 20X16 painted paper collage on canvas ©2010 Alyson Champ

The next two collages are actually mirror images of the same photo, but were conceived with complementary colour palettes. Small Mauve Iris relies on the purples, blues and blue-greens.

Small Mauve Iris 8X6 painted paper collage on panel ©2010 Alyson Champ

High Key Iris is based on yellows, oranges, and yellow-greens. It’s interesting how a shift in colour can totally alter the appearance of what is essentially the same image, isn’t it?

High Key Iris 8X6 painted paper collage on panel ©2010 Alyson Champ

My collage exhibition, Paper, Paint, Scissors, and Glue, is up on the walls at Salle Alfred-Langevin, 10 rue King, Huntingdon, and the labels are going on as I type. The door opens at 1:00 pm on Sunday, March 14th, and the vernissage starts at 2:00 pm. Bring the family!

Cut and Dried

My solo exhibition at Salle Alfred-Langevin opens in ten, yes count ’em, ten days. All the collages are finished, varnished and framed. Somehow I am ahead of schedule! Can I possibly be this organized, or have I forgotten something? I’m sure I’ll find out soon enough. While I’m racking my brain, trying to remember whatever it is that I’ve forgotten, here is a preview of a few small pieces which will be included in the show.

Sometimes I like to work small; it forces me to simplify my ideas. I can’t get too caught up in the details on a panel that is four inches wide and six inches long- the small scale just forbids it. Bold colour and strong design are what works best in the small collages. These two goldfish collages are companion pieces.

Goldfish #1, 4X6 painted paper collage on panel ©2010 Alyson Champ

Goldfish #2, 4×6 painted paper collage on panel © 2010 Alyson Champ

My tree frog obsession shows no signs of abating:

Tree Frog #3, 8X6 painted paper collage on panel ©2010 Alyson Champ

And last, but not least, something a little different:

White Park Steer, 5X7 painted paper collage on panel ©2010 Alyson Champ

Sheep Go to Heaven

Pinceau, aka The Goat

I never fully understood the connection between goats and the devil until I owned a goat, and then it all became clear. It’s not their horns or their weird eyes that make them seem evil. It’s their personalities.
Sheep will test your fences, get into your garden, run when you don’t want them to, or refuse to move when you most need them to, but what sheep seem to lack, and what goats possess in abundance, isn’t so much intelligence as it is a creative imagination: the capacity to posit the big “what if “, as in

“What if I turn the key in the tractor ignition?”

“Suppose I eat this bucket handle?”

“I wonder what would happen if I picked up this handsaw and
ran away with it?”

Sheep just don’t think this way.

The Goat never ceased trying to find new ways to amuse himself- amuse himself and torment us. Ever the nimble escape artist, he broke, jumped, or climbed his way out of every stall, pen, or paddock he was put in. From his point of view, a fence wasn’t so much an enclosure as it was a suggestion: “You probably should stay in here and eat this grass…but then again, you might prefer to be out there eating those currant bushes. Really, it’s entirely up to you.”

He ate through electrical wiring in the barn, pulled insulation out of the walls, broke windows, collapsed feeders, and destroyed the slop sink by standing in it. With lips as quick as the Artful Dodger’s fingers, The Goat could go through your pockets and grab your wallet, a pen, a utility knife, a syringe full of penicillin, a pair of hoof shears, or just about anything else you’d care to mention, and be off with it in a flash . You wouldn’t even know something was missing until you found yourself patting your pockets, saying, “Now where the heck did I put that….”
Too many times my tool belt clad husband would go out to the barn to repair some goat-related damage and come back with half his screw drivers missing. Or his tape-measure. Or his pliers.
And that myth about goats eating anything and everything? Well, that’s not a myth. They really will eat anything. I didn’t believe it either until I witnessed The Goat cheerfully scarfing down a plastic bag with a side order of latex glove.

In the end it wasn’t his appetite for destruction that ended The Goat’s tenure here as much as it was simply his appetite. One day The Goat got out into the yard and ate my husband’s plantation of cherry trees. And that was that.

Now, The Goat lives at my friend Anna-Maria’s place. No, it wasn’t an act of revenge for those horrible (but ultimately tasty) Muscovy ducks that she gave me. As crazy as it sounds, she really wanted The Goat. Honest!

Julius Caesar, Border Leicester Ram

What’s on the Easel

I have almost finished all the collages for my upcoming exhibition, and yes, many of these new collages feature my sweet, beautiful sheep. I promise to have all the photography done for the next post so that those of you who can’t get to the show itself will at least be able to see a virtual version of it. Until then I’m happy to share with you some of the reference photos which serve as the inspiration for my work. And no, there won’t be any goat collages!

Fabulous Fionna, Border Leicester ewe

Culture – It’s Not Just a City Thing

We are fortunate out here in the Chateauguay Valley to have a rich cultural life, and no, I don’t mean that we get HBO on cable. This is a rural community that takes culture seriously, and not just imported “city” culture, but local culture. Besides our sizable population of cows, we also have a large number of professional, high calibre artists of virtually every type: writers, theatre people, all manner of musicians, and visual artists. And the really nice part is that, as a local artist, you can put on a show, or a concert, or an exhibition, and people will actually come out to see or hear your work and support you. I went to a vernissage last weekend for a local painter and the exhibition space was absolutely packed. I’ve seen Montreal galleries with smaller crowds at the opening of a show. So, all you city people, don’t be fooled by our laid-back rural ways. Interesting, stimulating things do go on beyond your crowded streets and highways. There is definitely some culture out here in the heart of agriculture.

Photo courtesy of MRC du Haut-St-Laurent

One of our little jewels is the exhibition space in the old “Chateau” hotel in the town of Huntingdon. Salle Alfred Langevin (above) is an elegant, open and beautifully lit gallery space which is administered by our MRC -a sort of association of rural municipalities. Every year the cultural committee accepts proposals from artists looking to mount exhibitions. This year I am getting the exhibition space from March 14- April 4 and I will be showing my collages. The MRC prints your posters, invitations (and mails them), supplies the food and drink for the vernissage, and sends out all the press releases to the media. OK, so it’s not Berlin or New York, but the space is free and there is no commission on sales. From an artist’s point of view, it doesn’t get much better than that!