Category Parent for all Blog posts

What is craft?

categories: Blog

This year I tried something new. Instead of panicking in October and missing the farm staff party AND hallowe’en to make holiday stock, I hired friends to help me make 250 bicycle bells in September.

We put in 4 five hour shifts as a team – I cut out backgrounds and traced the bodies of cats and birds. We disassembled and primed bells and glued down images with outdoor Mod Podge. As we worked through a lot of what might be considered menial tasks if done alone, I reflected on the nature of craft. Craft asks that you are conscious of how each step is done. Craft would hate for you to push a button and lose out on all that juicy “process”. Urban Outfitters can never produce authentic craft, only knock offs. I had great conversations that got infused into the bells – the expressions of the cats, the placements of the birds.

It brought to mind Polish church ladies pinching perogies and gossiping around a giant steaming pot. There’s knitting circles, clothing swaps, and helping friends fix their bicycle on a perfect sunny afternoon. Canning with friends, brunch at home, food made with love…it’s so nice to spend time with people who inspire you and keep you motivated! And shouldn’t that be what life is about?

Folk art is defined on Wikipedia as art that: expresses cultural identity by conveying shared community values and aesthetics. It encompasses a range of utilitarian and decorative media… I love the idea of being surrounded by friends while cooking, making, gardening, fixing, and dreaming. That’s what “community” means to me, and it’s non-negotiable in my craft practice. Don’t get me wrong, I love getting lost in my own little world as I sketch out ideas and flip through books of adorable cats and sweet birds! But I need the balance of input and I don’t like getting it from keyword searches alone.

On my own over the last couple of weeks I’ve applied resin and re-assembled the bells. I’m so happy with how they’ve turned out, and they’re being shipped out to the boutiques listed in the sidebar as quickly as I polish them up. It seems as soon as I’ve sent one off, another request rolls in.

I’ve booked a few shows in November, Handmade Harvest on the 9th in Almonte (swag bags to first 50!), Sandy Hill’s One and Only (free buffet!) on the 16th in Ottawa, Fat Goose on the 23rd in Kingston (new earlier time this year!), and a brand new crafty pop-up in Kingston called Labyrinth, opening mid-October in the old Minotaur location.  Check in next month as I announce December shows. See you soon!

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Organizing the studio

categories: Blog, Uncategorized

Summer – flashing by so quickly. And soon it will be time to start thinking about getting back to crafting.  From June through October I work on an organic CSA farm near Kingston and devote most of my headspace to the harvest and canning of vegetables.  This year, I have put away three types of pesto, pickled garlic scapes, dilly beans, wasabi beans, and plan to do up some peaches in the next couple of weeks. I made a list of the things I want to can before the season’s done: charred tomato salsa, carrot soup, borscht, and curried eggplant relish. Art in jars, really.

Summer sun, pouring rain (it always seems to pour down in sheets on harvest days!), sore muscles, and mason jars – it’s over halfway through the farm season and boutiques are beginning to contact me with re-stock requests. Craft show organizers are tossing their holiday applications online. Teachers are planning their fall sessions and I’ve been booked for September and October workshops and November shows.  That means I have to start getting focused and spend more time in the studio! Cleaning up and re-organizing is usually the first step

The kitchen in the new place is huge so there’s no problem there. Problem is, I have 50% less space in the new studio compared to the old one.  Moving stuff around before every change of project gets frustrating. IMG_2525
Short inventory: Neckties, silkscreens, workshop supplies, packaging, craft fair displays and manneqins, graphic design and printers, bike bells, 167 1/2 book project and notes, plumbing books and rainscaping resources, custom t-shirt order, frame building supplies, extra vinyl records.
I guess it’s time to put in some shelving!

What’s your favourite event of the year?

categories: Blog

Mine is coming up soon, May 24th-25th – the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair. The weekend is shared in true community style. Dance parties with random new friends can be discovered while doubling on bicycles, “safe space” is celebrated, and perspective is refreshingly….radical. People here are all about doing it themselves, direct action, and being willing to look critically at the world.

There are two buildings hosting book and zine publishers, poster displays, workshops, free films, and the best of all: outside you can chill with new books and meet friends and strangers, play some frisbee or baseball, and eat free food.

Bring cash – unlike at craft fairs, no one here wants to give money to credit card companies (or deal with the paperwork). It can be overwhelming, it’s SO busy…they added a second room for books a couple years back which has eased the congestion problem but still, there is so much to take in. Take your time and just soak it in before buying things or going nuts. Need posters or patches? There’s fresh graphic design from Justseeds and Beehive, and me!

My job at this event is to lay the hundreds of patches I’ve made out on a table for whatever price you are able to pay. Sliding scale, or PWYC – pay what you can- (terms which you will see a lot), and for patches, that’s usually between $1 and $4 per. I won’t turn down a handful of random change if that’s all you have! Think “Sacred Economics”. Last year, I traded someone for a silkscreen frame exposed with some classic designs like “I didn’t go to work today, I don’t think I’ll go tomorrow” – they were all clogged and unusable, but I have it hanging on my wall. I’ve swapped for re-usable pads, hand balm, cinnamon buns, comic books, patches and zines. I use part of the proceeds from the patches to buy books for prisoners at Collins Bay in order to share radical ideas with these men who are living on the margins, so if you can, pay a little more or stop by with a book donation for the guys!BookfairPosterEnglishColour

Designing for an audience // the value of art

categories: Blog

Laurel and I had such a good time collaborating on workshops for the past few weeks. I asked her if she’d like to write a guest post for my website to describe her experience, and now I’d like to share it with you!
From Laurel:
For the past 3 weeks I have been working with Barb to develop and hone many workshops. Through the development of these workshops I have learned from Barb many different facets of her including what the heck “Rainscaping “is and what exactly one should do to get rid of their pet poop! Barb and I are very different but we saved some time to talk about something that unites us; Screen-printing! I have a background in the medium but I learned all my print making techniques from a very well equipped and stocked school and since graduating have not had the facilities to continue in the medium. Barb opened the world of screen printing back up for me handing down valuable skills I am now going to take to develop workshops for my peers at the Queens Faculty of Education. Of course through Barb I was able to meet lots of very talented individuals and I was able to also learn about what it takes to run a small business in the arts.

Without directly meeting them I was also able to learn from Desiree Marshall, Tricia Enns, and Alison Gledhill, all talented entrepreneurs that make a living through the Arts by designing a prezi for a workshop centred on “Designing for an Audience”.

Although there is no magic formula for making each creative business work there seemed to be a common thread among all; you have to LOVE what you do! These businesses are a lot of work and without the love your business will seem like a chore. Another aspect that creeped into many of the conversations about all these businesses was the importance of valuing yourself as an artist. Art has a value beyond monetary as it is infused inherently into our life and culture and artists have some insight into how their own contributions are part of that and therefore deserve to be paid for that.

I am walking away from my final practicum with many new skills and knowledge. I would like to extend a thank you to Barb for kindly letting me follow her around these past three weeks. I was looking for a unique practicum and boy did I get it!

Bringing art into schools!

categories: Blog

After leading workshops for years with what I thought was a foolproof formula:  teach myself via books, internet, skill-shares, then offer an activity interspersed with fun facts to a self-motivated group of students,  I had a block last year when planning a class with no obvious hands-on skill to plug into.  Plus, I wanted to change my approach in order to facilitate a learning experience between people instead of simply “leading” them in an activity.

This winter, I set out to get some speedy lesson planning and handout-creating tactics in place. The local college offered an online certificate – “Teacher of Adults”.  Although there was some good material there, it was beyond my budget ($350/class plus textbooks, amounting to $2500 for the certificate). Back to my old standby, low-cost self-guided study – but there were only two library books that suited my purposes and I didn’t get enough from my notes to improve  substantially.

Along with 18 artists, I found a OAC subsidized opportunity to take part 1 of 4 in the Royal Conservatory Artist Educator series at the end of February. Using interactive methods, highly skilled facilitators Ciara and Michael offered us insight into teaching tactics, motivation, stages of development and more – while helping us explore our own artistic practice.

The class was divided into pairs and we were tasked with creating a 1.5 hr lesson plan.  I’d been meaning for years to collaborate with my partner, Lynda – fashion designer and owner of Sew Helpful.  As if to make up for lost time, we ambitiously set out to design a 4 day class in sewing and textile design. For our presentation, we taught our class how to tie a necktie using a song, explored form by asking them to brainstorm, using prompts: who wears ties? how is the necktie worn differently now than in the past? Then we moved and danced around the room to Alice Russell’s A to Z and when the music stopped –  talked to a neighbour about the patterns and colours on their necktie.  We’d pinned a word to the back of their neckties and asked them to find the matching font on the wall and to discuss their font in practical application.  They would then present their opinions to the entire class (this is a technique called “four corners”).

Using similar teaching tactics, in 30 minutes, I transformed my boring lecture-based workshop from last summer.  With this new toolbox I finally have a formula I can use to teach any subject.

Over the next three weeks a Queen’s Outdoor Education student with an art degree, Laurel, is doing her alternative practicum with me.  We’ll be lesson planning and building handouts for for canning/food preservation, rainscaping, pet waste composting, and also doing a few screenprinting workshops.  Can you think of a workshop you’d like help designing? Drop me a line, maybe we can help.

But before I go back to lesson planning, I want to share a photo of some frames I’m stretching this week and a sneak peak of the cats that are about to find new homes on bike bells.


New studio, new perspective!

categories: Blog

In October 2013, my whole street was being undergoing sewer replacement surgery, and I’d already been through a maddening year of pulsing jackhammers, limestone dust, and exhaust fumes emanating through our walls from the inner transformation of the old bank building on the corner. I found myself focusing far too much energy interacting with the construction site and the developer and not enough time working on projects. I was no longer able to relax at home because of the noise and vibrations. And there was always limestone dust on everything!! After a long battle: eviction notices, hydro woes, a horrible cough and visits with lawyers – I succumbed to the inevitable and accepted a settlement to move out. My quirky home of 15 years is now being gutted and thoroughly re-modeled, along with its immediate neighbours, into high end loft units. (from right to left, Right Spot Restaurant, my apartment, old bank building)
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This slender 130 year old building had formed the basis of my identity in this town, and it anchored a community of like minded individuals through a series of non commercial events like free DIY workshops, music appreciation nights, and Perogy Parties. Fluorescent fish on the bathroom walls, bright red/mint green colour scheme, waves, figure studies and spirals painted directly onto the walls – 35 years of underground history tumble down the yellow chute into a dumpster, and I’m surprised I don’t find myself feeling an unbearable sense of loss. I guess I’m done with grieving at this point and I’m ready for change. Leaving the space has lifted a weight off my shoulders. I got rid of mountains of clutter when I moved. Oh, and I won’t miss the pee and vomit in the alleyway, the litter blowing in from the street, or the noise from the Jack Astor’s rooftop patio a block away.

Some of you already know that I’m writing a book about the apartment, telling the story of  barbers and dressmakers who lived and worked here as far back as the 1880s.  Their stories will intersect with those of bands such as Weeping Tile and 13 Engines who lived and jammed here, and speak to the importance of non-commercial spaces that support local culture and art. I walked by my old place the other day and there were a pair of pigeons sitting inside the window of my room.  I walk by that old building all the time, think about it every day almost. I think as long as the building is still standing, it will feel like home to me.

In mid October, thankfully, I was able to set up a temporary studio in a friend’s house to prepare for the busy holiday season. She welcomed me with open arms and to my surprise – my creative energy soared in the new space (or was it the radiant floor heating that inspired me?).  I had a successful and very un-stressful show season with no jackhammers, no dust, and no exhaust fumes waking me up on Sunday mornings!

This spring I’ll be setting up in the heart of Portsmouth Village, a community full of artists, workshops, and studio tours. There’s a neighbourhood pub with live music and pool tables close by, and the waterfront is even more accessible here than downtown. Instead of walking out the door and being hit by a blur of cars, garbage, and noise, the village offers the promise of wave watching, open water, trees breathing in parks, and a quiet atmosphere of solidarity and creativity.

Drop me a line at epidemic613 .at. to get on the update list for my book and related events/openings.  In Kingston at the Glass Studio on Queen there will be a reception on March 30th for Stewart Jones, the show opens March 15th. This accomplished Prince Edward County artist will be showing, among other  paintings exploring space, architecture, and urban life, a painting of 167 Wellington. Shown above is one of his pieces, from the collection of a previous tenant of 167 1/2, Mary Harmer of Weeping Tile.

Packaging for my DIY Bike Bell!

categories: Bike Bells, Blog

If you look closely, you’ll notice a few changes in my bike bells. The big improvement is a metal thumb lever (brrrring!) thanks to my new wholesale supplier, and the packaging that I’m proud to say I finished designing just in time for craft fair season.  The challenge was to find a container that was re-usable, protected the bell from damage in the purses and bags of customers, but didn’t hide the shining beauty of each bell.  I hope you’ll find a use for these tins afterwards, they would make a great container for spare bike parts (like extra bearings, nuts, or a patch kit) or could be used for spices, as a travel container for soap, etc.

Seasonal rhythms:

categories: Blog, Eat Local

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Here’s a little glimpse into how fun (and productive!) food preserving and harvest can be.  This also happens to be a part of my seasonal rhythms.  October through December, I make art non-stop, full time, stocking boutiques and going to craft fairs.  In January and February I rest and review my year, thinking of what I can improve, how I can make my life better, and get in some reading and snuggling into the warmth of blankets while snow flies outside.  In March I offer myself to the world: re-stocking boutiques for spring, making screens for friends and local groups and teaching workshops.   And sadly, start running low on preserves.  In June, the land begins producing bold spring greens, tender turnips, crisp lettuce, and the promise of summer fruit hangs in the air.  I work on a farm during the summer, but make time to do MORE picking at local berry farms and apple orchards.

Here are some pictures from last year’s harvest, my co-workers and I couldn’t get enough of getting soaked, muddy, and filling jars with jams, pickles, ferments, and more!  I’m still canning like mad right now, this year I’m learning about pressure canning and peeling skin off peaches. I’m also getting ready with new designs, new bike bells (more about that soon!), and craft fair applications for November and December.  See you soon!

What did I get up to this winter? Made some screens for local DIY projects!

categories: Blog, T-shirts, Uncategorized


Jolene Simko from Hearthmakers Energy Co-operative came by to refine her screenprinting skills in a special add-on class ($30!) that went along with the screen special ($30!)  For her shirts, we used a second print of dark green on the house , it was an easy “cheat” for small scale prints: the registration was accomplished by looking through the screen. I saw the shirts’ debut at Earth Hour in Market Square, the volunteers and staff looked great!

Fat Chance Farmstead
, Kingston area’s newest CSA (community supported agriculture) used the screen I made for them to personalize their wooden share boxes.


Meet The Modern Forces! Shawn and Julia have a two piece band. They don’t play much in public but they wanted some shirts for their friends. Here’s our easy small run registration method for their higher-detail design. I didn’t manage to get a shot of our best work but here’s a sample of what the final product looked like.


Finally Blue Heron Books and Zines is a community bookstore and zine distribution shop located in the AKA Autonomous Social Centre at the corner of Queen and Wellington in Kingston. At the moment, open hours are Mondays from 2pm to 6pm. “We strive to provide and promote radical, anarchist and anti-authoritarian books and media less readily available from mainstream sources or local venues such as libraries. Folks are also invited to come by during our open hours to read in the space, and engage in conversations with each other, collective members, and volunteers; we aim to promote the exchange of ideas” Their shirts can be found, among others, at the infoshop!

The last little pile of shirts is a friend referral. Lovely Nadia brought me a couple of her child’s drawings and we selected one to make some presents for Dad. Although I normally never take custom printing jobs, I usually just send people to Ironclad Graphics, I really enjoyed working on this adorable project!

Do you know what this is called?

categories: 45 RPM Adapter, Blog, Neckties


Or more importantly, do you know what this is?

If you didn’t grow up in the 70’s or don’t currently have a record collecting habit, you may not know that these little pieces of plastic are pressed into the space in the centre of 45 RPM vinyl records.  I never knew what they were actually CALLED – many people just call them “little plastic thingy” and then get on with the more important business of drinking beer and playing records.

When I started showing this screenprinted necktie at craft fairs I noticed the symbol definitely IDed a subgroup of vinyl afficionados.   I started asking people what they called it, but most people didn’t have a clue!

At an Ottawa area craft fair, I  met an artist who creates under the name Funky Vinyl Art who, (surprise!) makes things like wine bottle racks, coasters and clocks from vinyl records. I was told by FVA that these little beasts were called Spiders, which I later looked up and found to be true, although I have never heard anyone call it a spider before this – I had always called them 45 RPM Adapters.

When I got back to Kingston and asked Gary at Zap Records,   he brought out a bag of what he calls “Centrepieces” (he’ll sell you one for $1) and from the same little plastic bag pulled out an adapter cone which he said he prefers.

It is available in glow in the dark models (fun AND practical!) and retails for around $12.

Spiders, Adapters, Ads, Centrepieces, Pucks, Middles. Oh well, guess not everything needs a “real” name.  It seems that the beloved adapter from the past will be now replaced by the adapter cone.  And who knows what kind of nicknames will be thought up for it?  If you want to see the most epic of adapters, check this out.  Seriously.

Trivia bonus from an article about 45s and the adapters that are used in them:

“… the longest rock and roll song on a 45 was the Beatles “Hey Jude” which was more than 7 minutes, while the shortest was Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs “Stay” which was about 2-and-a-half minutes.


Ottawa craft shows (and deals)!

categories: Bike Bells, Blog


The Workshop Boutique sells my bicycle bells and always has fresh work by Canadian designers, Oh, and for Feb. 15th only, we’re giving one lucky person a FREE bell. Use this link to the blog post where you can enter using an embedded online raffle widget. If you don’t mind paying for shipping, you can enter from ANYWHERE in North America!

Additionally, Ottawa peops, this weekend I’ll be showing my work at the Ottawa Valley Crafts and Collectibles Show which I hope will be a new favourite, I’ve heard great things and considering their hilarious daily posts on facebook I assume they will be running a fun show.

If you’d like to see all the new things I’ve been working on this year, come see me at the Glebe Community Centre (175 Third Ave.) anytime from 10-3 on Saturday the 16th. Mention that you saw this post when you see me and I’ll give you $5 off either a bike bell or a screenprinted necktie!

I’ll also be at Mac Fair Saturday April 27th at Immaculata Highschool (pssst, crafters: although they are mostly full, vendors with items for men should still consider applying).

What do you do with your unwanted clothes?

categories: Blog

“Globally, we trash roughly 2 billion pounds of clothing and textiles a year. The textile industry has hooked us so completely on the accelerated fashion cycle that we feel we find ourselves with more and more stuff and few options for ethically discarding it.”

Thrift stores are the most common solution to our unwanted clothing problem. What happens to that clothing after we drop it off at the metal box on the corner? Fifteen percent of it ends up on the racks, forty-five percent travels to Africa for re-sale, five percent goes to the landfill, and the rest is used to stuff upholstery or car seats. And, as heartening as it may be to see all our waste being re-used, “as incomes rise in Africa, tastes become more savvy, cheap Chinese imports of new clothes flood those countries, and our own high-quality clothing supply is depleted, it’s foreseeable that the African solution to our overconsumption may come to an end. What then?” It seems we need to diversify our options for dealing with closet clutter in order to prepare ourselves for globalization’s effect on the clothing industry.

Check out this recent example of creative re-distribution of clothing: Re-Shirt is a clothing company with a unique vision. They sell used t-shirts, unaltered except for the addition of a Re-shirt logo, they also give you the previous owner’s story about their old shirt. They have organized Shirt Mobs, where much like a Flash Mob, people “spontaneously” trade t-shirts on a busy street corner, sharing the story of their shirt with the new recipient. This might sound familiar to those of us who attend living room clothing swaps, where the selection may be better than at a thrift store (since your friends have taste similar to yours). These examples link clothing to the gift economy, where we can trade or give away a piece of clothing instead of selling or donating it.

Upcycle: “to process (used goods or waste material) so as to produce something that is often better than the original”

For me as a screenprinter, the quality and quantity of choice offered when buying new neckties or t-shirts is certainly more reliable than the unpredictable selection at the local thrift store, and the final print on a tie would rely on fewer design questions. Each tie I work on is designed individually and I am challenged to match colour, pattern, fabric, with shape, font, pigment. I have an essential relationship, much as any artist would, with the process of transformation. So why don’t I buy new? This intimate form of production makes me carefully contemplate my sources.

“Using items that already have a story creates a connection between the past and present”

Not only is working with second hand clothing more satisfying than production printing on blank garments, I know that I am not contributing to the production of unnecessary textiles, of which we now know billions of pounds per year are tossed away, unwanted (not to mention the chances of them being produced with unfair labour practices). The popularity of the upcycling trend in business (the number of products on Etsy tagged with the word “upcycled” increased from about 7,900 in January 2010 to nearly 30,000 a year later) is heartening. When we make or purchase upcycled items (or attend a clothing swap!) we are a part of an important emerging movement.

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