The Chronicle of Wasted Time

Art, farming....and more!



A couple of months ago, I heard about an art rental and sales progamme run by the City of Pointe-Claire, Quebec.  Pointe-Claire is a suburb of Montreal, on the western end of the island. The Art Rental Collection- l’Artothèque, en français- has been around for more than forty years, but this was the first I had heard about it. This is their mandate:

Since 1967, when it was established as a project for Canada’s centennial, the Art Rental and Sales Service of the Stewart Hall Art Gallery has taken an active role in the promotion of the arts in the community by offering more than a hundred figurative and abstract works of art to the public. The success and popularity of the service amongst artists and art lovers continues to grow annually.

Every year, the Art Rental and Sales Service renews its collection by inviting artists of the greater Montreal area to submit their works to a professional jury. The selected works – including drawings, paintings, photography, prints and mixed media – are then exhibited in the Art Gallery. Following the exhibition, the Collection is available for sale or rent for one year at the Art Rental and Sales Service, located on the 2nd floor of Stewart Hall.

It is as easy to rent a work of art from the Art Rental and Sales Service as it is to borrow a book from the library. Works from the Art Rental Collection are framed and ready to hang and may be purchased, or rented for a limited time, offering an affordable way to bring art into the home or work environment.

It’s a lovely space, too, in a beautiful renovated waterfront mansion.

I was able to make the submission deadline, so I figured I would give it a shot. I submitted three pieces (the maximum number allowed) to the jury, and much to my surprise two of the three were accepted.


Winter Blues
I’m delighted that these two collages,  Saratoga and Winter Blues, will form part of the 2012/2013 at the Art Rental and Sales Collection at Stewart Hall in Pointe-Claire. Pretty cool, huh?
Oh, and it gets better: there’s a vernissage! This Sunday the exhibition opens to the public at 2:00 pm. Consider yourself invited.  The exhibition runs until November 25th, 2012.

Stewart Hall Art Gallery
176, chemin du Bord-du-Lac
Pointe-Claire, Quebec
Art Gallery Hours:
Monday through Sunday 1 pm to 5 pm
Wednesday 1pm to 9 pm
Free admission. Accessible by elevator.
tel. 514 630-1254

Cards and Prints on Fine Art America

Just recently I have begun uploading images to Fine Art America in order to offer them as inexpensive cards and prints. I thought that it might give would-be art collectors the opportunity to test out my work at a lower cost than buying an original.

So, out of curiosity, I ordered a bunch of cards off the site for my own use as I was curious to see if the ease of purchase and quality of the reproductions would be good as I had heard they are. Well, guess what? I’m happy to report that the printing quality is excellent! The cards are printed beautifully: rich colours, crisp images on high quality, glossy card stock, and they come with good quality envelopes. They arrived in Canada within a week of ordering. I have NO qualms about recommending this print on demand service!

If you like my art and have been considering a purchase, but aren’t quite sure if you really want to spend that much to invest in an original work, perhaps you could start out with a print or some cards? The prints start  as low a $22.

A pack of ten cards sells for $32. 
See, aren’t they pretty? I’m going to order some more for myself to send as Christmas cards this year.
And I guess now a whole bunch of people know what’s on our living room bookshelf, too.
Here’s the link:
Or just click the slide show image above right.

Along the English River

I grew up near the village of Howick, a blink and you miss it settlement in the Southwest corner of Quebec.  The English River, named originally for the English family who settled there – now mistakenly and officially translated into French as Rivière des anglais- is the waterway that runs through the village. The river, as you may well imagine, was the scene of much childhood activity. We fished in it, went boating and canoeing on it, swam (!) in it, rock hopped the shallow rapids, hunted for shells and “artifacts” near the shore, and skated on it in the winter.

Since moving a few kilometers south of  Howick, nearer to the village of St. Chrysostome, we have changed municipalities, but are still on the English River. It is, in fact, right at the bottom end of our smaller corn field.

The English isn’t a spectacular river by any means- no showy, pounding rapids, no steep cliffs tower above it, no swift currents torment it- but it is a pretty river in a gentle, pastoral way. I have painted its scenery many times.
Now that I am experimenting with a wider range of collage subjects, I have grown increasingly interested in making painted paper collage landscapes. The idea of creating a collage image that looks like a painting, but isn’t- this intrigues me. My newest work is entitled “Along the English River/ Rivière des anglais”.

“Along the English River” 20×24 painted paper collage on panel ©2012 Alyson Champ

I am so pleased with the way this piece turned out that I have entered it in a juried exhibition in Montreal and also in an online international competition. Wish me luck!

P.S. In case you would like to know a bit more about this little spot on the map of this vast nation that is Canada, just click on the link here.

The Department of De-Fence

Note: This blog post appears in the Fall 2012 Issue of Sheep Canada Magazine.

“I am not accident prone!” my husband declares while trying to disentangle the various I.V. lines in his right arm, only to hit himself in the head with the cast on his left.
“That’s not what your mother says.” I answer.
“What does she know?! She’s my mother!”
Ten o’clock in the morning, a warm day in May, my husband is in a hospital bed, recovering from surgery and multiple fractures.
My mother-in-law has just left, but not before regaling us with tales of my husband’s various mishaps. The stories culminate in the re-telling of an incident from his childhood: At the age of two, tethered to the clothes line and under the “supervision” of his older brother, my husband ate poisonous berries off a shrub in the backyard and had to be rushed to hospital to have his stomach pumped only to return home a day or so later whereupon he promptly consumed a bar of soap in the bathroom.
“I was TWO!” he says, irritated.  “And just how does that story show that I am accident prone?”
“No, you’re right,” I say, “that’s not accident-prone. It’s something, though.”
He glares at me.
“And why were you on a leash tied to the clothesline?” I ask.
“How should I know- It was the SIXTIES!”

My husband is a woodworker by trade and so has had his fair share of job-related injuries: cuts requiring stitches, a splinter in the eye, the occasional smashed finger. Since taking up farming, he has had two accidents serious enough to require hospitalization, and, curiously, both of them were directly connected to fencing. No, not the white outfits, skinny swords, and “En garde!” type of fencing. More the “Why are there sheep in the backyard?” type of fencing.
Our farm used to be a goat farm and was fenced with goats in mind. We figured the page wire fences ought to be good enough to hold sheep.
“Omar The Bad”   (Photo © Alyson Champ)
For the first couple of years, the sheep were indeed easy on the fences; normal maintenance was all that was required. Then we added some Blue Faced Leicester genetics into our mostly Border Leicester flock.  One thing I will say about Blue Faced Leicesters, apart from their elegant bearing and gorgeous fleece, they have an uncanny ability to spot a loose picket. Within a year, all hell broke loose. And when I say “broke loose” I mean that literally.
To remedy the loose pickets, my husband designed for himself a gigantic, wooden maul – but he never got to use it. The angle grinder he was using to carve the maul slipped and cut open his right knee: Accident Number One. His recovery took several weeks; the fencing went unrepaired. The sheep continued to graze pretty much anywhere they chose.
Initially, the periodic out of bounds grazing wasn’t really such a big deal, so we let it go. Our farm is a long way from the road and we have no immediate neighbours to complain about sheep in their yard. The fences, though, got seriously damaged by sheep accustomed to pushing  their way under the wire at will, plus implementing any kind of rotational grazing was pretty much out of the question.  Eventually it became obvious that we had to repair the fences. Plans were made for the following spring, bringing us to Accident Number Two.
 Accident Number Two involved fence pickets, the front end loader of a tractor, and my husband’s left wrist and ankle. To make things just a little bit worse, this was also the spring that we were able to embark on a long awaited renovation project: having a cement foundation put under our house. Earth was moved; heavy equipment came and went; a section of fencing in the pasture closest to the house disappeared.
Unfinished, damaged, or absent fencing, combined with major home renovations, and a husband temporarily confined to a wheelchair meant free rein for a certain flock of sheep.
 “I think the sheep are eating the romaine lettuce.” says my husband, momentarily distracted from a DVD of “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane” by the sight of sheep in our garden.
Out the door I run to herd sheep through a gate back into the pasture where they belong. I see the sheep have arrived in the garden through a section of missing fence, but how did they get into that pasture in the first place? A quick walk out to the back fence shows me a sizable gap between the bottom of the page wire and the ground, along with the ample evidence of the crime: fleece caught on the wire. I patch up the fence with extra pickets, rocks, wire – whatever I can lay my hands on to block the gap. I inspect the rest of the fence for additional gaps, and satisfied that there are none, return to the house.

Later in the summer, on impulse one day in the feed store, I bought myself a length of portable electric fence and a solar battery, thinking that I could contain the sheep and mow our lawn all in one fell swoop.  It was a nice idea. The problem with this arrangement, however, was that I could never persuade ALL the sheep into the temporary corral.  While I could lure some of them in there with a grain bucket, there were always a few holdouts. Separated from their fellows, the sheep in the corral spent most of their time calling out to the others who remained in the pasture – like a very long, very loud game of Sheep Marco Polo.
And, of course, it also meant that the animals not contained within the electric fence were still able to get out. I gave up.
“Do sheep actually LIKE green peppers?” asks my husband seated in his wheelchair, Stephen King’s novel “Misery” open on his lap, as he surveys our yard through the window.
“I don’t think so,” I say, “Why?”
“Because the sheep are out in the garden eating them.”

Out the door I go again, this time determined to block access to the yard entirely. The fence is missing several pickets which I cannot possibly replace. What to do? I root through the piles of construction rubble in our yard and pull out some scrap lumber and a section of wooden railing from our old deck. From this, some extra pickets, wire, and baler twine, I fashion a temporary fence. It isn’t pretty, but it works. The sheep come up to the “fence” and look at it. The vegetable garden remains tantalizingly close, just out of reach.

“Fence Installation Project: Do you think I can get a grant for that?”  (Photo © Alyson Champ)

“HA!” I say to them, triumphant. They look at me and walk off. Days pass.
I enter the living room to find my husband peering out the window through a pair of binoculars, Grace Kelly in Rear Window frozen on the TV screen behind him.
“Where are the sheep?” he asks.
“Out in the back pasture, last time I saw them. Why?” I say.
“Hmm. I don’t think so. Here, take a look.” And he hands me the binoculars.
Out the door I go, this time to the car. A plume of dust follows me as I speed down our driveway, onto the road, and then a short distance up the neighbour’s lane. I stop and get out. The sheep are looking at me. They have broken out not to invade my garden or graze the lawn. No. They are in the neighbour’s fallow, herbicide sprayed field eating dried up cow parsnip and ragweed.
“What is the matter with you animals??!” I yell.
“Baaaaa!” they say.
I clap my hands and wave my arms at them. They turn to flee, kicking up their heels and cavorting as they go.  I follow them in the car in order to see where exactly they have breached the fence.
Lacking adequate materials, again I raid the pile of construction debris. Pulling out more wooden railing and scrap lumber, I drag it out across the pasture to fashion yet another patch.

Over the course of the summer, the sheep continued to escape. I continued to patch fences with whatever I could find; my husband remained in a wheelchair.  Our neighbour eventually did me the kindness of mowing down his fallow field. The sheep lost interest in that, at least.
“What are you doing?” my husband asks me through the window.
“I’m moving the electric fence.” I say as I lug the roll of portable fence across the lawn.
“Trying that again?” he asks.

“Fenced Garden”   (Photo © Alyson Champ)

“No,” I say, “I’m putting it up around the garden.”

Another bad sheep: “Miss Juliet” 10×8 painted paper collage on panel, © 2010

The Case of the Purrrrloined Kitten

When my daughter was in primary school, fundraising activities were common occurrences. I remember quite clearly one day in December when she and a group of friends spent a chilly winter afternoon going door to door selling bread. They came home  a couple of hours later with a sizable order list. And a kitten.

When I asked where the kitten had come from, the kids said they had found her shivering in a ditch by the side of the road, presumably abandoned. The kitten was a tiny little thing, maybe five weeks old, and my daughter begged me to keep her. Since I have a hard time putting out an animal once it has come into my house, I really couldn’t refuse.

Tabitha in Bed  (Photo ©Alyson Champ)

Tabitha soon became a most cherished member of the family, and never for a moment did I regret taking her in. I also never questioned the “kitten in the ditch” story that the children told me. We live in the country, and, sadly, animals are abandoned by the roadside all the time.

Five years or so later, my daughter came up to me one day and said, quite out of the blue,

“Mom, we need to talk.”

Now, I don’t know if you have ever been the parent of a teenager, but if you have, you know that those aren’t words that you really want to hear. Fearing the worst, I sat down to listen to what my daughter had to tell me.

And quite a tale it was.

“Remember when we brought Tabby home and I told you that we found her in the ditch?” my daughter said to me.

“Yes.” I said.

“Well….we didn’t really find her in the ditch,” my daughter confessed, “we stole her from the farmyard down at Pam’s.” She paused, ” Are you mad?”

Was I mad? well, not really, though I wasn’t pleased that I was deliberately deceived by a bunch of children. Although I must say, I was a little impressed that they all stuck to their story- for years, in fact. And what’s more, they had first tried to persuade all the other mothers to take the kitten, with no success. But in the end, my daughter was confident she knew how to sucker me into it. And sucker me she did.

Tabitha is seven now, and we love her as much as we did the day that she came into the house tucked inside a child’s coat. She also makes appearances in my artwork from time to time, as below.

Tabby 5×7 painted paper collage on panel, © 2012 Alyson Champ


If you were to find yourself out in our back pasture in January, this would be the view. I’m sure that months into our long, cold, Canadian winter I won’t be so fond of the sight of snow, but looking at these nice cool blues was a treat in the hot days at the end of summer.
Birches – 12×16 Painted paper (acrylic) and found paper on panel © 2012 Alyson Champ

This collage is my first serious attempt at incorporating found papers into an artwork. “Birches” is made of papers hand painted with acrylic, painted wrapping paper, and printed magazine stock. I’m pretty happy with the result and will probably try it again. It could be a handy way to do some recycling!

Impractical Poultry Keeping: A Beginner’s Guide

This post was originally published in the Summer Issue of Sheep Canada Magazine.

When we bought our sheep, a friend of mine who had had quite enough of sheep gave us a couple of her books. One was called The Shepherd’s Guide Book, and the other book had a blue cover with sheep on it and lots of illustrations on the inside. I read both books cover to cover. What did I learn? Oh, lots of stuff, although as it turns out, pretty much none of it was useful.  Sure, you’ll learn some things from books, but the lessons experience teaches you – those are the ones that really count.

What, then, has experience taught me about sheep? Experience has taught me that I know nothing about sheep, and probably never will.  I didn’t start my career as a shepherd until I was forty, which is simply too late in the game for all the mathematical probabilities to play out.  In the five years that we have been keeping sheep, never once has an ovine illness or mishap repeated itself: the sheep always contrive to contract new diseases and find different and ever more novel ways of dying. Begin keeping sheep in your twenties and by the time you are sixty you might actually know something.
Chickens, on the other hand, are a lot less complicated, and my experience with them goes back much further.  Yes, I own books with such titles as Practical Poultry Keeping, Bantam Breeding Genetics, and Pastured Poultry Profits.  Yet most of what I know about chickens I didn’t learn from books. I have kept chickens off and on for over thirty years. As a child I kept and bred fancy bantams. I also built three dimensional historical maps and invented my own language. I was a strange child. But by beginning early with chickens, I was well on my way to building up a storehouse of information and practical experience which serves me well now that I once again have a flock of chickens. I see illnesses which I first saw thirty years ago, and so, having the benefit of acquired experience, can say to myself, “Oh, I know what this is!”, and then am able to deal with the problem; whereas with my sheep, I am reduced to throwing my hands up in the air saying, “O- my- God -what –now?!!” and spending the rest of the day Googling symptoms and waiting to speak to veterinarians.
So if you ever want to keep chickens- and I heartily encourage you to do so – by all means get yourself a copy of Practical Poultry Keeping, but bear in mind that a book will never teach you everything you need to know.  Never fear though, for experience will be waiting to fill in the gaps for you!  Heck, experience will cram in those gaps with a trowel! And while you await the mortar and trowel of hands -on learning, I offer you some advice gleaned from my many years of keeping poultry.  
These are the twelve most important things I have learned about keeping chickens, things that you won’t find in any book.
1.       You do not need a rooster.
2.       If you absolutely must have a rooster, then for God’s sake DON’T have more than one.  A henhouse with too many roosters is like a frat house party during frosh week- minus the beer.
3.       Don’t hatch your own chicks. Buy them already sexed from a hatchery.
4.       If you absolutely must hatch your own chicks, familiarize yourself with the Rule of Inverse Poultry Proportion, a universal law governing chickens which can be summarised as follows:  Roosters will always appear in direct proportion to their LACK of desirability. For example: you hatch a dozen chicks and really don’t need any roosters. According to the Rule ALL TWELVE chicks will be roosters. Or, suppose you want to replace your old rooster with a younger one and so you hope for at least one rooster in your hatch of twelve. The Rule of Inverse Poultry Proportion in that case will grant you ONE hen- and eleven roosters. See how this works? Oh, and don’t go thinking you can fool this universal law by saying out loud, “Boy, I really hope we only get roosters this time, hahaha!”, and expect to hatch only hens. The forces of the Universe will know you are lying, and you will still get roosters. People will tell you that probability, given a large enough sample size, will eventually grant you a more or less fifty/fifty split between roosters and hens. Do not believe this; these people know NOTHING about chickens.
5.       Getting rid of extra roosters.  So you went ahead and hatched your own chicks, and now you find yourself stuck with a dozen scrawny roosters. What to do with them? Well, you could eat them, although chances are they will scarcely be worth the effort to kill and pluck them. Or you could do what I do: cultivate a wide circle of friends who also enjoy keeping chickens but who live in areas with large coyote populations. That way you will be able to divest yourself of unwanted roosters while at the same time filling a need within the community. It’s a win-win.
6.       Chickens get into things. If you leave a work cabinet door open or fail to close a storage shed, you can be sure that chickens will get in there. Before closing anything up, you might want to check to see if there are chickens in there first. This is especially important when you receive a load of hay in a pickup truck. If your hens are loose in the yard when your hay arrives, ALWAYS check the bed of the truck before the driver leaves. Unless, of course, your surplus roosters are loose in the yard. Then you don’t need to check the truck. This method of rooster reduction is nearly as successful as the previously mentioned number five.
7.       Do not wear sandals when feeding chickens.  Chickens get very excited when you feed them. Chickens like to peck at things. Chickens like to eat big, pink, juicy worms. If you must wear sandals into the coop, you should also wear socks. Yes, you will look like a fashion-challenged idiot, but you will look far more stupid minus a toe.
8.       Either fence your chicken run or fence your vegetable garden. Unless your plan was to grow summer cabbages and tomatoes for the purpose of feeding them to your chickens, in which case no fences are necessary.
9.       If you buy electric poultry fencing for your chickens, you must remember to turn it ON.
10.   In every flock there is at least one stupid chicken.  How do you recognise the stupid chicken?  It’s really pretty simple. On an evening when: a) It is raining. b) You are going out and are already late. c) You are wearing nylons and high heels.
There will always be one chicken who refuses to return to the coop, and who will resist all efforts to be herded in the correct direction. This is the stupid chicken.
11.   Coyotes always eat your best laying hens first. Then they eat your roosters.
12.   Coyotes never, ever eat the stupid chicken.

The Evil Eye – 6×4 painted paper and fabric collage on panel.

Getting Back to Normal

Wherever that is. 

I’ve got a teenager who has gone away to college and a husband who is no longer in a wheelchair- although he is still on crutches- so it is getting easier to put in some daily consecutive hours in the studio. And what am I working on?

It is August, so it must be…


“Birches in Snow” a collage in progress

I am working with my usual acrylic painted papers with the addition of some found papers mixed in. The plan is to create the birch trees using magazine stock, having the print stand in for the grey of the trees. I’m curious to see the end result. 

When I’m not in the studio or in the barn, you can usually find me in the garden. It has been a dry summer here in St. Crazy, but the only thing in the garden that seems to be suffering is the zucchini- a mixed blessing, really. I usually end up foisting them on people. Not so this year, though.

But check out the cabbage! I grew them under floating row covers this year and they are slug-free perfection.

Photo copyright the artist.

I know you’re jealous.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Studio

So, first this happened.

Our massively disruptive (but necessary) foundation construction project.
Then this happened.

No, that’s not me, that’s my husband with a broken wrist and reconstructed shattered ankle putting him  in a wheelchair for six weeks. We are currently in week five.
And a whole lot of this happened.
And this.
And this.
So there hasn’t been a whole lot of time for this, 
Lac Masson – 12X9 painted paper collage on panel ©2012 Alyson Champ.
but I am working on correcting that!

Jacked Up?

In case you were wondering where I had gone…..

Spring House-jacking

I actually haven’t gone anywhere.  We had our spring lambing in March, and now, for April and May we are having our spring house-jacking. The lambing was more fun, even with the placenta. 

Our yard currently looks like the aftermath of the second battle of Ypres, many of the interior walls of the house are cracked, the plumbing leaks, the floors are cold, our cats have gone insane, and I get motion sickness in my own bedroom. And did I mention the all-too-frequent sight of construction workers urinating on our woodpile?  Well, there’s that, plus the noise and the dirt…..Let’s just say that studio time has been hard to come by lately, and leave it at that. 
However, I do have some very good news! Some of my collages have just been picked up by…

which is located on Mackinac Island, Michigan – 7410 Market Street, to be precise. The grand opening is May 12th, 2012, at noon. More details to follow- I promise! – as soon as we get back to solid ground.