June 16, 2017

How to address a blank canvas

6 minute read, in Method & Craft

When Bandana joined our band of artists that share a studio at 213 Sterling Road, the old Toronto factory that’s known for being a haven of eclectic tenants, she just needed a place to work on her audio documentary.

Her setup only required a laptop, a few books, and a big calendar, but she was drawn to our communal artist/maker space to learn more about the analog process through osmosis.

A year later, Bandana is packing up with the rest of us, (we’re getting the boot!) and she asked if she could record our art making process before we all move out.

Bandana, I’ve been avoiding this invitation! To be honest, I didn’t know what to say about my process. It varies from project to project. It’s hardly glamorous. It’s a lot of scribbles.

But I know it’s more than that, and I instinctively grabbed my favourite book about process (The Art Spirit, by Robert Henri). I know how much you love books.

While flipping through it quickly looking for the perfect quote- I saw the blur of scribbles in the margins on every page. A physical record of what I got out of the book the last time I read it, waiting for the next opportunity to layer understanding. And I remembered what I wanted to tell you:

Process is a form of personal wayfinding and well-being.

Here’s one of the many highlighted ideas in my copy of The Art Spirit that expands on this:

“…when I have to talk to a class of students. Often I start, very tired from other work, or distracted by little annoyances, with nothing to say and no invention in saying it, but am forced by the engagement to go on. Presently, as I make the struggle for orderly and relative ideas, the fatigue rolls away, order begets order, and a healthy state of mind and body exists. And again at the end I am tired, but in better condition than when I started. There is more than one way to rest and to recuperate, and it amuses me to say that the paradox- that resting is often very fatiguing.
Of course, on the other hand, we find among artists and art students many who, instead of thinking and searching order, dash at their work in a wild splashing frenzy, without reason, without an interest in finding the way, just wanting the goal, screaming and stamping their feet to get it- not interested in the process of getting it. Such as these, practically in disorder, wear themselves out, destroy.”

A good process is orderly, and order begets order.

Order on the palette, in the sharpness of the pencils, the layout of a room- begets order in the mind.

Order in the mind begets health and balance and community.

That’s why I make art, to be constantly surrounded by these compounding benefits of order.

That’s also why I resist going digital too early in my process- everything is hidden inside the machine. When the computer is turned off, when files are closed, the compounding benefits of process are dormant. So I compensate by surrounding my desk with sticky notes and traces of what I’m working on. These things are physical and take on meaning. The sleeping computer is a poor companion for a journey.

Which reminds me, as many things do, of something Steinbeck wrote.

“THE HOUSES WERE LEFT vacant on the land, and the land was vacant because of this. Only the tractor sheds of corrugated iron, silver and gleaming, were alive; and they were alive with metal and gasoline and oil, the disks of the plows shining. The tractors had lights shining, for there is no day and night for a tractor and the disks turn the earth in the darkness and they glitter in the daylight. And when a horse stops work and goes into the barn there is a life and a vitality left, there is a breathing and a warmth, and the feet shift on the straw, and the jaws clamp on the hay, and the ears and the eyes are alive. There is a warmth of life in the barn, and the heat and smell of life. But when the motor of a tractor stops, it is as dead as the ore it came from. The heat goes out of it like the living heat that leaves a corpse. Then the corrugated iron doors are closed and the tractor man drives home to town, perhaps twenty miles away, and he need not come back for weeks or months, for the tractor is dead. And this is easy and efficient. So easy that the wonder goes out of work, so efficient that the wonder goes out of land and the working of it, and with the wonder the deep understanding and the relation. And in the tractor man there grows the contempt that comes only to a stranger who has little understanding and no relation. For nitrates are not the land, nor phosphates; and the length of fiber in the cotton is not the land. Carbon is not a man, nor salt nor water nor calcium. He is all these, but he is much more, much more; and the land is so much more than its analysis. The man who is more than his chemistry, walking on the earth, turning his plow point for a stone, dropping his handles to slide over an outcropping, kneeling in the earth to eat his lunch; that man who is more than his elements knows the land that is more than its analysis. But the machine man, driving a dead tractor on land he does not know and love, understands only chemistry; and he is contemptuous of the land and of himself. When the corrugated iron doors are shut, he goes home, and his home is not the land.”

-Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath

This passage feels particular ominous to me now as we embark on our own migration story, from a place which has had its own pulse, to make room for those who will shut off their computers and lock the doors at 5:00.

There’s not much to do but infuse the next public place with all the compounding benefits of a physical process, the evidence of life. Breath.

In honour of our last few weeks before setting out on a new adventure, here’s a movie we for the 48-hour film project at the studio in 2013: “Art Bros Forever.” Constraints: it had to be a bro film and had to feature a briefcase! Starring studio people: Ryan Briggs, Arber Makri & Raphy Capalad.


And a few pictures over the years!

The year when we all caught the large format painting bug

The year when we all caught the large format painting bug


An old advertisement to join our studio.

By-products of process


Thanks for the mood lighting 213 Sterling Rd.





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