Category Archives: inspiration

“Chihulys” on the Beach

 

Long Beach, Pacific Rim National Park, British Columbia

Long Beach, Pacific Rim National Park, British Columbia

One of the artists I admire the most is Dale Chihuly. He is famous for his monumental glass sculptures that have been seen all over the world, from Tacoma to London and from Las Vegas to Jerusalem.

Dale Chihuly, Rotunda Chandelier, V&A Museum, London

Dale Chihuly, Rotunda Chandelier, V&A Museum, London

We are lucky enough here, in Vancouver, to have one of his installations, “Persian Wall”: a large bunch of oversized flowers in rich, saturated colours, enclosed in a glass wall outside of a residential building.

 

D.Chihuly, Westbank Persian Glass Wall, Vancouver, BC

Dale Chihuly, Westbank Persian Glass Wall, Vancouver

Chihuly’s work, whether large-scale or more intimate, such as his bowls and vessels, always makes me truly happy. The forms he creates, largely inspired by nature, feel both familiar and otherworldly. They are comforting, moving, uplifting, and awe-inspiring, all at the same time.

A few weeks ago, just before the start of the school year, I went to Long Beach, in Pacific Rim National Park, on the West coast of Vancouver Island. Wild, isolated, and breathtakingly beautiful (yes, literally, as it is often quite windy), it is my favorite getaway. And as the longest beach on the West Coast of Canada, it always offers plenty of “treasures” for the dedicated beachcomber that I am.

By-the-Wind-Sailors, Long Beach (August 2014)

By-the-Wind-Sailors, Long Beach (August 2014)

This visit, I saw the strangest and most fascinating of creatures. Was it even a “creature”? I wasn’t sure until my trusty Audubon Society nature guide book*, told me it was indeed one – a sort of jellyfish – poetically named “By-the-Wind-Sailor” (Velella velella).

Out-of-the-Wind-Sailor (Vellella velella)

By-the-Wind-Sailor (Vellella Velella)

And as I kept walking, I saw a lot more of them, an entire “flotilla” in fact – their single translucent sail catching glints of sunlight as they floated gently on the surf. Their bodies were electric blue, as if emitting their own light, and also ultramarine, navy and even midnight blue. Some had sailed too close to the beach and, having been left behind by the tide, had run aground. Like tiny ghost ships, they were slowly fading away, the rich hues changing to soft pastels, and eventually to diaphanous whites.

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I could not help but think of Chihuly’s magnificent Seaform series. I am sure that these By-the-Wind-Sailors played a part in his inspiration but how he transformed the glass into elegant flowing forms is extraordinary. His masterful technique allowed him to push the material to its limits, and to stretch it to create ever so thin undulating forms that still hint at the wave movement, as if they just came from the sea.

Who knew I would find “Chihulys” on the beach?

 

Dale Chihuly, Azure Seaform Pair

Dale Chihuly, Azure Seaform Pair, 2011

 

 

 

 

 

Dale Chihuly, White Pearl Seaform Pair, 2012

Dale Chihuly, White Pearl Seaform Pair, 2012

For more information about Dale Chihuly and his work, please visit his website.

National Audubon Society’s website

* National Audubon Society Nature Guides, Pacific Coast, Knopf, 1985.

pacific coast guide

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Meanwhile in San Francisco”

Illustration by Wendy MacNaughton, courtesy of The Atlantic.

Illustration by Wendy MacNaughton, courtesy of The Atlantic.

In my last post I was lamenting about being stuck in the creative doldrums. I decided to turn to drawing which had cured me of many ailments before, and after only a few weeks of daily drawing exercises, I noticed a slight improvement: a connection had been made. A few more weeks later, I am happy to report that I was able to finish three new pieces that I submitted to an exhibition (more on this later).

So drawing has been on my mind and in my life lately – in a big way. When I found in the July-August issue of The Atlantic, a review of Wendy MacNaughton’s newly published book Meanwhile in San Francisco (Chronicle Books), I knew this wasn’t just a mere coincidence, there was serendipity involved, and I had to share it with you.

In her review, Sarah Yager describes Wendy MacNaughton’s process as she creates what she calls her “illustrated documentaries”. MacNaughton, an illustrator based in San Francisco, spent several years documenting the lives of people in her city. She explains how she was “capturing subjects on the move, drawing without looking down, using her pen not just to express but to observe.” Her self-portrait above shows her drawing “in the field” (Note the pocket full of used pens. Now that’s dedication!). Her sketches depict street scenes and people from various communities around the city. I admire not only her dedication, but her drawing style as well. Her lines are both relaxed and descriptive; I love that she manages to keep them fresh and expressive. She also records snippets of dialogue, and often with a touch of humour. This is what Wendy MacNaughton says about drawing: “Drawing, for me, is this vehicle to look. It forces me to slow down and pay attention to things that I might not otherwise notice.”

I could not have said it any better.

Here‘s the link to Wendy MacNaughton’s website.

 

 

Vancouver Love

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Over thirty years ago, I came to Vancouver and I fell in love with it. And it loved me back.

It was summer and the beaches and the mountains were beautiful. Maybe too beautiful, I thought, for what I wanted was a meaningful relationship, not just a pretty place. Then came the long wet winters. Tough love, I thought. But I stayed, and eventually learned the dozens of words Vancouverites have for “rain”. In time, I found a diverse and vibrant creative community (Vancouver has the highest number of artists per capita in Canada*) who helped me blossom into the artist I always wanted to be. Turns out there was more to this city than postcard pretty scenery.

Vancouver, English Bay Photo Wikimedia Commons

Vancouver, English Bay
Photo Wikimedia Commons

Last Friday I received the City of Vancouver Mayor’s Arts Award for craft and design. These awards recognize established and emerging artists in various disciplines, from craft and design, film and new media, to community art, from poetry, music, dance, theatre, to culinary art. The recipients are chosen by a jury of their peers.

I am, of course, very proud and happy, and extremely grateful for this recognition. When I walked onto the stage to receive the award I was terrified, as with any public speaking that is required of me (outside of my classroom). All I wanted to do was hide, so I only managed a few words of thanks. This is what I would have liked to say: I’ve always felt comfortable in my community of craftspeople where sharing is just something you do; we pass on information, bench tips, etc. We help each other. I’ve always felt that I was part of a big brother/sisterhood of craftspeople. Most of the metal techniques we use have been perfected over several millennia by other metalsmiths all over the world. Personally, much of what I know, I have learnt from my teachers, mentors, and colleagues who have been generous enough to share their knowledge and skills. So, in that spirit, I acknowledge that I did not win this award solely on my own.

Thank you Vancouver!

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Thank you Mayor Gregor Robertson !
Photo: Dan Bar-el

* quoted by the Craft Council of British Columbia – October 31, 2013.

Gilakas’la! Welcome to Alert Bay!

Alert Bay. Totem poles, Namgis burial grounds.

Alert Bay. Totem poles, ‘Namgis burial grounds.

I have just returned from Alert Bay, a small village on Cormorant Island, off the North Coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The trip started very early in the morning with a ferry ride from Vancouver on the mainland to Nanaimo, then a long drive to the Northern tip of Vancouver Island to Port McNeill to take a final ferry to Alert Bay, just before sunset.

Port McNeill, BC. Ferry to Alert Bay.

Port McNeill, BC. Ferry to Alert Bay.

Alert Bay

Alert Bay

This was my third visit, and still, driving the whole length of this big island is always thrilling. The road stretches for miles and miles through big dense forests, with almost no one except for deer grazing on the side of the road and eagles flying above. It feels as if the forest will swallow you as soon as you stop moving. What’s even more astounding is that Port McNeill is “only” at the half-way mark to the north of British Columbia where it touches Alaska and the Yukon!

Alert Bay is the traditional home of the ‘Namgis First Nations who had established a thriving salmon fishing community there long before Captain Vancouver anchored his ship off the coast in the late 1700’s. It has always been an important fishing and supply centre, as the turn-of-the-century wooden buildings that still stand on Fir Street can attest. And it is famous for its totem poles.

Alert Bay from the ferry.

Alert Bay from the ferry.

Fir Street.

The bay from Fir Street.

Fir Street.

Fir Street.

Totem poles on Namgis burial grounds.

Totem poles on ‘Namgis burial grounds.

Totem poles on Namgis burial grounds.

Totem poles on ‘Namgis burial grounds.

This tiny island with a population of about 1,400 people has a very rich and, at times, turbulent history. On my first visit in the late eighties, the tension between the two communities was palpable (the population of the village is roughly half native and half non-native). Potlatchs (gift-giving festivals practiced by the Northwest coast tribes) had been made illegal in 1884 by the Canadian government and all the artefacts had been confiscated. After the ban was lifted in 1951, people continued fighting for the return of their ritual objects that were by then dispersed in several museums in Canada and around the world. Most of these objects have finally been returned to the village. They now constitute the “Potlatch Collection” of the U’mista Cultural Centre  – “U’mista” means “Return of our treasures”. This world-renowned collection of copper shields, dance regalia and carved masks is alone worth a trip should you consider exploring this part of Canada.

U'mista cultural centre.

U’mista cultural centre.

U'mista.

U’mista.

U'mista.

U’mista.

On my second and third visits, I found a healed community, warm and welcoming. In 1999, the Village of Alert Bay and the ‘Namgis First Nations signed the Alert Bay Accord, “a unique document under which they agreed to mutual support in civic and cultural matters affecting both jurisdictions”. U’mista strives to keep the rich cultural history of the First Peoples of the island alive and to “forge links between the past, present and future generations”. The traditional songs and dances of the potlatchs are being taught, as well as kwak’wala, the language of the Kwakwaka’wakw people.

Alert Bay, Front Street.

Alert Bay, Front Street.

Strolling through the village, accompanied by the croak of Raven the Trickster echoing from the tall cedars, I am reminded of the power of these treasures, and the totem poles come alive.

D Brechault Alert Bay totem poles

D Brechault Alert Bay totem polesD Brechault Alert Bay totem poles

Skyfall (not the movie)

Dominique Bréchault - Homing Device (Detail)

Dominique Bréchault – Homing Device (Detail)

As you know, I have been living the life of a space station astronaut vicariously through ISS Commander Chris Hadfield (who has now returned to Earth). I’ve always found space travel inspiring. As a little girl, along with my brother, we would play Connect the Dots with stars. We would spread a blanket outside in the meadow, gaze up at the night sky, and try to find as many constellations as we could… or make up our own. Here on earth, I like nothing better than lying on a beach, on a clear night in August when the best meteor showers can be seen, watching shooting stars.

Shooting Star. Photo credit: NASA

Shooting Star. Photo credit: NASA

Meteor, meteorite, comet, or asteroid – I don’t always remember what the difference is, they are just beautiful. And this is all that mattered to me until I saw a documentary about the Catalina Sky Survey, and realized that our planet is surrounded by a lot of very large chunks of space debris hurtling through space. With the help of several giant telescopes, in Arizona and Australia, the Catalina Sky Survey is mapping out space in order to catalogue comets and asteroids. Some of these interplanetary rocks can be knocked out of their orbit and put on a collision course with our planet. By keeping track of these near-earth objects, the CSS would be able to give us sufficient warning and avoid deadly consequences. The asteroid that crashed on the city of Chelyabinsk in Siberia last February weighed about 7,000 tons and was the size of a bus. This was the largest strike in over a century, and it caused a lot of damage. If you want to know what is going to hit us next, go to the CSS website.

These rocks are very intriguing, and since most of us are not able to travel to the crash sites and pick them up, a good place to go to view them safely is the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian. Or you can visit their website. In the Mineral Sciences Collections, look at the National Meteorite Collection, which is, with 45,000 specimens, one of the largest collections of meteorites in the world. The variety of textures, patterns and even colours is astounding. They are enigmatic, unearthly, and for a jewellery maker and designer, offer challenging and exciting possibilities.

Fortunately, certain types of meteorites are not that rare and are fairly affordable. Tektites are a good example although they are not, technically, meteorites, but rather the result of a meteor crashing on the surface of the earth, melting sand and combining with surrounding rocks. So, you could say they are more like extra-terrestrial glass. They come in various shapes, mostly odd “molten” shapes called splash-forms, darkly coloured, with a glassy, pockmarked surface. They are very light, and tinkle like glass when they touch.

TektiteTektite detail

My favourite “space rocks” are Gibeon meteorites, composed mostly of iron and nickel, with cobalt and phosphorus in smaller amounts. They are fragments of a meteorite that fell in Namibia during prehistoric times and were recovered at the beginning of the 19th century. Gibeon meteorites are extremely dense; a small piece of the material always seems heavier than it should be for its size. When sliced, the octahedrite crystal structure displays a stunning intricate network of marks in various shades of gun-metal grey that is characteristic of this type of meteorite and is known as the Wittmanstätten pattern.

Gibeon meteoritesGibeon meteorite detail

I bought several small pieces a few years ago. “Homing Device” is an example of what I made with one of them.

D. Bréchault : Homing Device - Pendant with lidded stand. 14k gold, silver, Gibeon meteorite, magnet, iolite, patina.

D. Bréchault : Homing Device – Pendant with lidded stand. 14k gold, silver, Gibeon meteorite, magnet, iolite, patina.

“Homing device”, a pendant with a lidded stand, is a “transformer” piece composed of three elements that can be arranged in different ways. Overall dimensions, when closed, are 5 cm (diam.) x 3.5 cm (height). The pendant (chain not shown) is a slice of Gibeon meteorite set in 14k gold; when not worn, it can be placed on the base and used as a “compass”. The hollow circular base, constructed out of sterling silver, is decorated with stamped and etched designs – the coordinates of my childhood home. A magnet, concealed inside the base holds the pendant in place (Iron-nickel meteorites like Gideon meteorites are extremely magnetic). The lid, made out of silver wire, with an iolite bezel-set on the “North Pole”, is an abstract representation of our hemisphere and, when on the base, can be turned around for further “calculations” (with some poetic license).

Homing Device - Overall view, closed.

Homing Device – Overall view, closed.

Homing Device - Open

Homing Device – Open

I am proud to announce that this piece is going to be shown in a juried exhibition commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Craft Council of British Columbia, in October 2013.

Sakura

Sakura

Sakura

April. For many months the city has been swathed in layers upon layers of clouds. Muted tones of grey and silver; the pitter-patter of the rain. Now, under the bright new sun, the clouds have dissipated. Birdsong. And street after street, the city is blushing – so many shades of pink, from champagne to shocking, but mostly cherry blossom. These are our Sakura days. We celebrate the cherry blossoms and the arrival of Spring with picnics under the cherry trees, concerts, blossom paintings, and haiku competitions. I took in some of these events two weeks ago:

Van Dusen

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Van Dusen  temple      Cherry Blossom Festival               Cherry branch       

What I enjoy the most is to walk around neighbourhoods, to track the blooms as they progress through the city, to revisit favourite spots or discover new ones.   

sakura walk

There are over a thousand varieties of cherry cultivars here in Vancouver, with names like Kanzan, Ukon, Asagi, Kiku-shidare-zakura ou Atsumori. Look at the English translation of some of these names: 

Shogetsu                     Moonlight on pine trees

Mikuruma-Gaeshi      The royal carriage returns

Ama-no-gawa             Heaven’s river 

Sounds a bit like a haiku, doesn’t it?

Two cherry blossoms

As Spring brings in more blossoms, streets turn pink and white, taking on a new identity. For a while, Graveley Street becomes “Akebono Street”:

Graveley Akebono 1

Some streets are lined with cherry trees so large they arch across and meet. With the sweet scent of blooms in the air and the warm late-afternoon light filtering through the canopy, it feels like walking through a cloud cathedral.    

Graveley arches 1Graveley arches 2

There is so much to experience: colours, striking compositions or patterns of petals on the grass – a rich source of inspiration that can be challenging to capture with a camera or a pen so I can revisit it later in the studio.

But then sometimes, Mother Nature does the designing for us. Fossil coral is a striking stone that, for me, encapsulates perfectly the beauty and the delicacy of cherry blossoms. I bought one a few years ago, a rectangular cabochon in subtle shades of pink, with a detailed flower pattern – a serendipitous find since I was at the time in the throes of one of my sakura walks. Here is a necklace I made with it :

D Brechault - Cherry Blossom necklace

D. Bréchault – “Cherry Blossom” . Necklace. Sterling silver, fossil coral, freshwater pearls. Fabricated, cast.

Fossilized or agatized fossil coral is formed from ancient corals which, over time, were replaced with agate; the cross sections of the coral branches form the flower pattern. It is actually a stone (agate), no longer a piece of endangered coral reef. It is found in various parts of the world and the oldest ones can be as old as 450 million years. This particular one, from Indonesia, is about 20 million years old. They range in colour from tan, to yellow, to pink, to black. With a hardness of about 7 on the Moh’s scale, it is not delicate, and is quite suitable for jewellery making.

Flower pattern on fossil coral

Flower pattern on fossil coral

With the fossil coral as a centrepiece, I wanted to make a necklace that would be as light and ethereal as possible – like blossoms landing softly on your shoulders as your walk under a cherry tree. The setting had to be minimal, discreet, so as not to distract from the intricate flower motif on the fossil coral. I chose a prong setting, which uses a minimum amount of metal to hold the stone in place: a narrow seat at the back and thin prongs on the front, to expose as much of the stone as possible.

Back of setting

Back of setting

The leaf motif is repeated throughout and provides a visual connection between the pendant and the strand of pink freshwater pearls that holds it. On the setting, a small silver branch acts as a claw to clamp the stone. The clasp is a small hook hidden under another branch, and there is a single leaf at the end of the chain on the opposite side that serves as a weight to make the clasp more secure.

Detail of clasp

Detail of clasp

7019 detail of leaf prong

Detail of prong

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve just heard that Kiku-shidare-zakura is in bloom a few blocks away, a not-to-be-missed cherry tree with spectacular chrysanthemum-like flowers. I am tickled pink just thinking about it.

Home

Intro photo

Photo: Chris Hadfield/Twitter

It’s almost the middle of March here on the “Wet Coast” of British Columbia, and the rainy season is not over yet. I can’t wait to get out of the house and go for walks in the neighbourhood, in search of inspiration. So in the meantime, for a change of scenery, I read Chris Hadfield’s tweets.

Commander Chris Hadfield. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Commander Chris Hadfield. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Chris Hadfield is a Canadian astronaut, Commander of the International Space Station, and currently orbiting the Earth. He has been tweeting regularly since he arrived on the ISS last December. Test pilot, astronaut, mission specialist, commander of the ISS, etc. etc. I can’t list all of Commander Hadfield’s countless achievements in this post, but you can go to his Wikipedia page for more details. And he is also working on the first music album to be recorded in space. A true Renaissance man.

His tweets give us glimpses, often funny, of his daily life in space – on February 27th, “Just made myself another bag of coffee. One of those mornings, even in space : ) ”. When he gives interviews, it’s always a treat to see him in front of the camera, floating around and playing catch with the mike. I always learn a lot. For instance, how do you clean spills on the Space Station? Well, it involves gloves and rags, just like here on Earth, except, with zero gravity, it’s more fun!

As part of his research work on the Space Station, Chris Hadfield is testing for the Canadian Space Agency a device called Microflow, which, he says, could become “a real Tricorder” – yes, it turns out Commander Hadfield is a Star Trek fan (And so am I, by the way. There, I’ve said it). This device would be used to diagnose medical conditions on Earth and in Space. According to the CSA ,“The portable technology could offer near real-time medical diagnosis for astronauts in space, people in remote communities or in areas affected by natural disasters where medical equipment is not readily available.”

And his pictures of Earth, taken from the windows of the ISS, are…out of this world! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) From his unique vantage point, Chris Hadfield captures images of weather systems and storms hurtling across the skies, or shows how water and wind can slowly reshape the landscape. What I find fascinating is how his photographs reveal the impact that we have on our planet, whether through agriculture, industrialization or urbanization. There are places where the surface of the planet has been cultivated, tamed, and sometimes deeply scarred. There are also, still, some vast empty expanses. And then there are places where millions of us are huddled together:

Manila, Philippines. Photo: Chris Hadfield/Twitter

Manila, Philippines. Photo: Chris Hadfield/Twitter

What is obvious is that we humans share a beautiful home (and with a beautiful view).

Moonrise, March 4. Photo: Chris Hadfield

Moonrise, March 4. Photo: Chris Hadfield/Twitter