my new flame

Can’t believe it’s been almost year since my last post. It’s been a fast but full one, mostly taken up with the launch of my novel, Dazzle Patterns last fall, and busy months of readings.

In the spring I heard that the novel had been nominated for the Amazon Canada First Novel Award, which brought my husband and I home from our spring trip to Italy a week early, to Toronto for the awards ceremony. It was  wonderful to be part of this incredible group of Canadian writers and deeply gratifying to feel that my book found its mark amongst readers. The stunning Water Beetles, by Michael Kaan won.

This September I returned to France to teach with Kelley Aitken. In this, our 7th year, we decided to offer two workshops in Lyon. Kelley had spent time there with a good friend, Sandrine, who was our Lyon Ambassador for the weeks there. I had never been there.

To make a long story short, I fell in love with this city. With its palette of warm sienna’s, pinks, cinnamons, and soft yellows: the buildings which were once filled with Jacquard silk loom ateliers. Once there were 40,000 looms in Lyon. Now the workshops have been transformed into apartments which retain their tall ceilings (which once accommodated the 15’ high looms) and the tall windows which lit the workshops. 

Silk "canettes" for the looms.


Our apartment was perched on the top of one of these buildings and looked out acroos a cul-de-sac to the roof top of Saint Nizier Cathedral with its troop of gargoyles.

At night bats threaded the air; stain glass windows glowed yellow and sounds of mass floated up the courtyard. At 3 in the morning smells of fresh bread and croissants drifted up from the bakery on the next street. 

The city lies between two rivers and so is spun together with bridges, over which pour traffic, pedestrians and bicycles. 

The horses' nostrils snort mist in this magnificent fountain, where each enormous horse represents one of he five rivers of France. 

The beauty and grace of lyon, the food, the markets, the museums, the parks, really captured my heart. I love Paris but Lyon is my new flame. I am sure we will offer workshops there again….

                                     market day






Small Pleasures

After working on last edits of my novel last winter and escorting it off to readings this fall I found myself back in my studio after Christmas.

I hauled out unfinished canvases I'd left a year ago and went to work, trying to find my way back to the original connection I had with the image. But the task felt slow and contrived. After a week I put them aside and just decided to have fun. I painted a score of wooden cradles with black gesso and began a series of small studies from here on my small piece of earth. They are illustrations really, of the co-lifeforms which I love and which  embellish, each in their modest way, the grey weeks of winter. I plan to continue with these as the spring comes on...




Dazzle Patterns


My novel, Dazzle Patterns (just out with Freehand Books, Calgary) is set in Halifax during the first World War, specifically during and after the Halifax Explosion.

I first encountered dazzle patterns when looking at paintings made my Arthur Lismer (a character in my book). He would go on to become a founding member of the Group of Seven, but in 1917, at the time of the Halifax Explosion, he was the Principal of the Victoria School or Art, in Halifax.



Lismer was a compulsive sketcher and was harassed on his frequent drawing field trips in and around that busy harbour by authorities, paranoid about spies. Lismer eventually got “official war artist” status. He did many paintings of ships in the harbour, including this well-known painting of “The Olympic” teeming with returning troops.

The paradox of these ships, engaged in the deadly business of war, painted in beautiful patterns, drew me into the origins of Dazzle.

They are a little cloudy. One version is that the idea was introduced to the British navy by a marine artist, though a zoologist also laid claim to the idea.

 I like the notion that it was introduced by a zoologist, because, the idea of dazzle, like so many other great ideas, occurred in the natural world first.

Chantal de Bruijne/Shutterstock

"Dazzle" in the case of zebras, is not so much camouflage as something to disrupt the silhouette of the animal, to confuse the lion. Dazzle patterns painted on the war ships, sighted by the predatory submariner, were intended to confuse shape, scale, even direction of movement.

Last week, when I read from my novel at the Dalhousie Art Gallery, I discovered, in Peter Dykhuis, the curator, someone similarily captivated by Dazzle Patterns. 

A few dazzle paintings were on the walls of the gallery, with the more extensive collection of Lismer’s drawings of the Halifax Explosions, some of which appeared in journals and books (courtesy of the historian Alan Ruffman). This show is part of a program of exhibits, experiences and installations that the gallery is mounting this fall to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the historic event. 

It was never proved that dazzle patterns on ships were particularly effective, but as Peter says, it achieved another thing, “cubism came sailing into Halifax Harbour.”






                              Picasso-The Musicians, 1921










Meanwhile, it began to influence fashion of the times. I wish these bathing suits were still on the market!


 Sometimes it takes a long time to find the right title of a book. I worked on this one for ten years, under a series of working titles, amid shifting sands in plot and theme. But, as the story emerged, the title rose from the page. The day I found it I called my husband right away to share my discovery: the music of the phrase, but more importantly, the ability of the idea to encompass metaphors: disguise (hidden in plain sight), seeing art and the art of seeing, was perfect!


gathering the summer in

....before I head off to France to teach. Though I always feel I should spend more time at home during the summer, other adventures always seem to beckon. 

This year it began with sailing the Southern Gulf Islands on Circadia with my french friends Brigitte and Isabelle.

I never tire of these islands, which are so familiar, yet always feel exotic.

Brigitte is my long suffering French instructor--you'll notice the mandatory french vocabulary ;)

Late June, I left the boat temporarily to join my good friend Nancy for our annual Mitlenatch warden week.

We have been coming to this seabird colony in the Strait of Georgia for over twenty years. It is always magical, an island dense with birds and wildflowers, sitting in a great bowl of blue, rimmed with mountains.

Home from sailing for a few days and then off to work on Maple Leaf in Alaska. 

Everything is big in Alaska!



mid-winter homebodies

I have always admired the Winter Wren (now unimaginatively called the Pacific Wren). It's a feisty little bird with, at first glance, dull markings. On closer examination it is a study in all the browns of the forest, studded with little light flecks--a kind of subtle bird bling. Winter Wrens (sorry, I'm sticking with that name) are the ultimate homebodies, staying firmly put in their territories all year round, usually no more than a few feet from the ground. Their scientific name Troglodytes embodies their earthiness -- they dwell in the bushy cave of the understory.
They are also one of the only birds which bothers to sing once in awhile in the winter. Their song is a long burbling exuberant series of trills, which run as fast as a rainforest river. Slowed down it is a miracle of haunting flute-like notes
In short, I love everything about these little birds.

For the last ten years or so we also have Anna's Hummingbirds with us for the winter. I am always astonished when I see these tiny beings up and at 'em before sunrise in subzero weather. How do they manage to survive these cold nights and have enough energy to fire themselves up for the first trip to the feeder?

photo by Tom Colgrove, via birdshare.

I hope you as content as these birds, cozy at home, this Christmas season.