The Chronicle of Wasted Time

Ninety percent art. Ten percent chickens.


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.

Winter Wonderland

A couple of weeks ago it looked like winter was gone from Southwest Quebec. The snow had melted, the days were warm, the sap was running in the maple trees, I started letting the chickens outside: all the harbingers of spring.

Then….BOOM….winter came back with a vengeance.

Hmmm…is spring coming? (Photo by Anna Kiraly)

Two snow storms in less than a week has left the landscape looking more like mid-January than early March. But, hey, I’m not complaining! I actually like the snow! For me it means more cross country skiing, and (as I have just discovered) more opportunities for sleigh rides courtesy of our neighbour and his horses.

Ti-Gars hitched, Yvon, and friend. (Photo by the artist)

Pine cone (Photo by Anna Kiraly)

If you have never had the opportunity to travel by horse power along forest trails dappled in sunlight and violet shadows, I urge you to add it to your bucket list. Oh what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh!

And oh what fun it is to make sleigh ride collages!

Ti-Gars – 5×7 painted paper collage on panel, © 2012 Alyson Champ

Sleigh Ride – 8×10 painted paper collage on panel, © 2012 Alyson Champ

I’d Like to Be Under the Sea

When I was a small child, back in the days of vinyl records and naugahyde sofas, Ringo’s song, “Octopus’s Garden”, was one of my all time favourites. There was just something about the idea of being able to live underwater, to swim around with the fishes in a shimmering undersea garden of rocks and coral that was naturally appealing to a child. I guess that childish notion has remained buried somewhere in my subconscious because last year when I started seeing lots of underwater photos popping up on my friends’ Facebook pages, I was drawn to them immediately. The beautiful blues, strange lights and shadows, the sense of weightless exuberance of kids and adults swimming underwater got me hooked. I knew exactly what I wanted to do: a series of underwater collages!

Below is the first effort. Thanks to my cousins Mike and Elaine for the use of their family vacation photos.

Mara Underwater – 20″x 24″ painted paper collage on panel, ©2012 Alyson Champ

I’m putting the word out: If anyone has some underwater digital photos and you don’t mind them being used as reference material for artwork, send ’em along to me. I am always on the look out for more ideas and inspiration. You can email me here under contact in the website menu.

An Unusual Job

I recently completed a commissioned painting which was an unusual project for a couple of reasons: first, the visual content was fairly different from the subjects I usually paint or collage; second, the support, or surface that the painting was painted on, was odd. This particular oil painting, featuring among other things, cars, milk cans and a large adjustable wrench, was painted on an antique saw blade. Here it is below, photographed in two sections while still in my studio.

Tannahill Transport #3 – saw blade showing the dairy transport and three generations.

This unusual painting was created for the Tannahill family and is one of a series of saw blades I have painted for them. The series constitutes a visual history of the family transport business, a business which has been in operation in this corner of Quebec for a very long time. In fact, my older brother used to drive for them years ago, so seeing one of those big, green Mack trucks coming up the road always made me happy when I was a kid.

Below is the first blade (in three sections), painted about seven years ago.

Tannahill Transport #1 – saw blade with older trucks,

a family portrait,

and newer trucks in the fleet.

Not long after completing that first blade, I was commissioned to paint a second one. I think this one is my favourite.

Tannahill Transport #2 in two sections.

I especially like this section. Can you guess why?

Thanks Brian T. for letting me stand on your coffee table to photograph these blades. It was great to see them all together for the first time, and fun for me as an artist to be part of such a nice family project. If you find another blade you want painted, you know where to find me!

New Year, New Work

Yes, I know I’m a little late with the whole New Year thing, but I swear I haven’t been idle. Actually, the opposite is true; I have been rather busy of late. Strangely enough what has kept me so occupied hasn’t been collage, but rather a lot of painting. Good thing I never dropped the “fine oil paintings” from the banner of this blog! As there is no longer an oil painting section on my recently revised website, this blog and Facebook are the only places you will see this work. So much for swearing off painting.

Les voici, here they are:

The first is a portrait of my friend Eric’s beautiful daughter, Rafaëla, who was a model for my art classes last fall. I enjoyed the process of portrait painting so much – something I haven’t done in a very long time- that I had her come back to the studio and sit for me so that I could finish the job. The finished painting turned out very well, although it is now painfully obvious to me that I need new glasses.

Portrait of Rafaela – 17.5X13.5 oil on board © 2011 Alyson Champ (sold)

Most recently I completed a couple of small landscapes. The first one is an oil sketch on a little 6″x 4″ panel. If you think you might like to own it, just drop me a line. It is priced to sell at $95 CAD, and I will ship for free within Canada.

Bush Trail – 6×4 oil on panel, ©2012 Alyson Champ

Also recently completed is “First Snow( shown above, 10″x 12″ oil on canvas, © 2012 Alyson Champ).

This landscape is signed, varnished and ready to go. Yours for $415 CAD.

Autumn Bouquet
– 18″x 14″ oil with acrylic underpainting on canvas, ©2012 Alyson Champ ($490 CAD)

Yes, “Autumn Bouquet” IS the same still life from the last post where it was called “Autumn Still Life with Plums”. I’d like to say that I renamed it for some sensible reason, but the truth is I had forgotten what I called it. “Autumn Bouquet” is signed, varnished and available to hang on the wall of your sunny kitchen. Just drop me a line here.

And now it’s back to the glue again.

Still Life Step by Step

Although I have mostly been working on collages just lately, teaching an intro to painting class has kind of gotten me in the mood to pick up my brushes and paint. Last week, the class worked on a floral still life, and since the flowers were pretty and seemed to be holding up all right, I thought I would have a go at them as well.
I started by toning my 14×18 canvas with an acrylic wash of raw sienna, just to cut the cold, shockingly brilliant white of the acrylic gesso. I already had some acrylics out on my palette, so I opted to do the basic underpainting/blocking in with the acrylics.

Stage 1: acrylic underpainting (all images copyright of the artist).
The next morning, I made the decision to switch to oil paint, which is the medium I am most happy working in. It has been more than six months since I have actually worked on a painting, so I figured I needed to give myself every advantage!

Since the colour scheme of the still life was built on complements and near complements, I thought it would be a good idea to restrict my palette in order to achieve a less jarring, more harmonious appearance to the finished painting. My palette consisted of: titanium white, ultramarine blue, rose madder, permanent rose, cadmium yellow medium and cadmium yellow light. I also added a raw sienna, burnt umber, and sap green, although I wasn’t sure if I would need them. I really only needed the green, as it turned out.

Stage 2: refining the blocked in image, this time with oils.

By restricting the palette and limiting my colour choices, I ensured that the same basic colours- the blue/purple, orange/yellow – would appear throughout the painting. Those colours, plus titanium white, are, for example, the shadows on the white marguerites, the “grey” of the jug, the “white” of the table cloth, the “silver” of the teaspoon, and the “yellow” of the background.
Stage 3: a little more pulled together.

Painting is a process of decision making and refining of the image. In the photo above, you can see that I continue to define the areas of the flowers, leaves, the jug, and fruit. I also have some decisions to make about the drop off of the front of the table (Do I add it even though it wasn’t part of my view?) and the corner of the table edge at the back (Do I remove it even though it was part of my view?). In the end, I left out both the back corner and the front drop off: the back corner destabilized the composition too much, and the front drop off didn’t really add anything.
Stage 4: hurry up before those flowers die!

Painting a floral still life is a race against time- everyday it was a little different. By the third day, leaves and petals were falling, flower buds were opening, and some of the ferns were dead! I decided to add a few of the fallen petals and bits of fern where they fell. They conveniently helped to close up the too open spaces in the composition. I also decided to suggest the faint stripe of the table cloth for the same reason.
Autumn Still Life with Plums– 18×14, acrylic and oil on canvas, © 2011 Alyson Champ
By the afternoon of the fourth day, I knew I was going to have to call it quits: an evening drawing class meant I needed to re-arrange the studio. It’s hard to tell when a painting is really finished. I usually need to live with it for a while first. Right now, I’m not sure I love the very obvious counter weight of those plums. Certainly the perspective of those stripes needs a bit of adjusting, and possibly the table cloth itself needs to be toned down a bit, although, in my defense, the photo above is a bit bluer and colder that the actual painting- at least on my monitor. I can also see a couple of areas where the blending of edges is a bit too sloppy. Hmm…. It’s always something!

You Never Can Tell

Studio Tour 2011 – all photos by the artist (that would be me!)

The 2011 edition of the Hemmingford Studio Tour is now a thing of the past. The signs have been stored for next year, the number of visitors tallied, and no doubt planning for the 2012 Tour will soon begin.
This year, I exhibited my work at Roxham Farm, which is the home studio of watercolourist Susan Heller. Roxham is a delightful place, a real old fashioned farm which dates back to the first half of the nineteenth century, and retains its antique charm.

Roxham Farm

Because I am a self-employed artist and a farmer, I really don’t get out much. The weekend of the Tour was a pleasant opportunity to talk with other artists about our different techniques and media, and to chat about the art market. In Sue’s barn, I shared wall space with Sue, John Hodges, and Helga Sermat.

Watercolours by John Hodges (in frame) and Susan Heller, along with some wool for sale.

Helga hanging her cards .

More of Helga’s colour pencil work.

Some of my set up.

And some ducks.

The Tour was also an opportunity for me to see people I almost never get to see or haven’t seen in years, and also the chance to meet all kinds of new people. You never know who will come out to a studio tour; it really takes all sorts. Of course there were some artists come to check us out, and I met some local farmers and people from the area, some Montrealers out for a day in the country, and a few Americans. I also met a statuesque,blond, Swedish masseuse (and her dog), and a man who had built a trebuchet. Yes a trebuchet: a forty foot high medieval siege engine capable of hurling a three hundred pound weight a distance of six hundred feet. Now, that’s your winner right there, I think.