I’ve been in therapy a few times in my life. The last time was in my early 40s.

One of the questions that was asked of me was “What are your boundaries? When do you say no?” This was significant because the majority of my life I had molded myself to behave in an acceptable manner. For everyone else, their set of parameters is malleable, and therefore my set became nonexistent as I had to be ready for the next set. So here I am a decade later still figuring out what my boundaries really are, trying to tease them out from amongst others. They are emergent but visible just as my art is.

When I first started enforcing my limits, it came as a shock to those I lived with. There was much effort spent trying to get me to return to my former chameleon state. It was a challenge to not just slip back into old patterns of behaviour that pleased everyone else but me.

I also have difficulty knowing when and where to express my asks to others. It is in my nature to quietly observe in the beginning to get a feel for the other. Many extroverts take this as an open ended invitation to continually take up conversational space. I get that. I too like to be heard. So when I do express a desire to be heard, to voice my opinion or boundary, it can come off as an affront to those who are used to me just listening. Forgive me, I am still practicing this and I will get better at it.

My boundaries are mostly about being kind to others, having compassion, and allowing others to live with dignity and respect. These are pretty broad I know. But I do have some specific ones that appear when needed. I just choose not to randomly share, which upon reading what I have written is a boundary (pats herself on the back).

Part of discovering where I draw the line has involved some discomfort and observation, some experimentation and failure, and some revelations and joy. I have learned about what makes me tick and I have begun a spiritual journey. If you want to discuss this, feel free to ask me questions. I am now confident enough with myself to engage in a conversation about my process.

For those of you who have found your boundaries early in life, congratulations. For those of you who have lost them or/and are still discovering them, congratulations. We are all in these sentient envelopes experiencing what it is to be human. May your path be interesting and filled with joy, light and love.

Lake Superior Palette

Recently I took my father’s ashes up to Thunder Bay. My mother, who had been divorced from him since I was 16, offered to accompany me since I was planning to drive. I wanted to take my time and stop when something appealed to me. It was going to be a pilgrimage of sorts.

My mother was diagnosed last year with early Alzheimer’s. Her short-term memory is poor for facts but she can still enjoy experiences and recall feelings. This journey was a way to create those opportunities and she would also get to visit with her sister.

It had been two years since I had been that way. The last time I had traveled this stretch of the Trans Canada highway was to go say goodbye to my aunt. I had gone with my mother that time too. And, we offered to take my father as it was his sister we were going to see.

Needless to say, this trip was bittersweet. But I chose to take in as much of the majestic beauty of the north shore of Lake Superior as I could. Having lost two special people recently and knowing that my mother is being taken away too has made me very aware that life is precious. I am going to take time to enjoy, to experience, to pause and drink in the sensory input.

What I have taken away from this road trip is a renewed appreciation for the grandeur and ruggedness of the ancient glacier scraped topography. I have been inspired by the trees, the water, and the granite that gives this area its distinctive colour palette. I have already begun to incorporate this organic palette into my artwork.

The Lake Superior palette is beautiful and calls forth my childhood experiences to meld them with the new adult experiences. I hope you enjoy this new journey as much as I.


I was born in the 60s which makes me a genXer. I grew up in a small town on the north shore of Lake Superior. I was born to a 20 year old mother and a 24 year old father. I arrived with all my parts and a brain that was very capable of learning. All of this influenced my early life experiences and started the evolution of my identity.

Identity is fluid. It morphs and develops. Layers of experience add depth and understanding. And, there is constant change. As a child, I thought that once I became an adult I would know who and what I was. That was the way it was supposed to be. However, this turned out to be a falsehood.

Even now, in my 50s, I am learning things about myself. I am evolving, I am gaining insight. Identifying as a creative has been a part of that new path.

My encounters with other creative people has lead me to start asking questions about gender and what does it mean to me. I was born with girl parts and I have given birth to two babies. But I have never really known what it felt like to be female. I don’t wear makeup, I don’t fuss with my hair, and I don’t feel the need to keep a tidy house. These are all things that I see other women caring about. When I was young, I didn’t like dolls much. I remember liking my trucks and reading books. I had some stuffed animals but I also liked to build things with blocks and a mechano set. I like that I get to have emotions and I still melt with love for my children. I wear dresses but I don’t like dainty high heels.

I think that maybe I am both feminine and masculine. Maybe more to the female side as I do identify as a goddess. When I told my mother, she said that she had always thought of me as just being Shelley, that I had always been such a strong personality that the label of girl did not quite fit. Fascinating.

I am happy to be able to express and explore these feelings. I really think that all the discussion regarding the sex ed curriculum spurred this inner dialogue. I wonder if I would have made these discoveries earlier if I had been exposed to the idea of gender fluidity in my elementary years. Would I have felt more comfortable with my being?

Why buy original art

You can go to HomeSense and get a print to match your sofa. You will take it home, hang it and ignore it until it starts to fade. Or you can buy art from a local artist, art with a personal meaning, art that will go home and continue to delight you.

Local artists paint and create art in so many different ways. There is a local artist out there who paints what you like.

By buying local, you support the creation of culture in your community. You help an artist pay the bills. You can talk with the artist and find out what motivates them.

It will cost you a little more but you are getting a piece that won’t fade like a print. You will get something unique. No awkward moments when a guest pipes up “I have the exact same piece in my basement!” And, you are going to enjoy that piece.

Original art is an investment like a great piece of jewelry.

So get out there and go check out your local artists. You can find them in art fairs, art tours, art crawls and local artist collectives displays.

Artist and Student Grade Paints

You are wandering into an art supply store like Curry’s or Deserres and are confronted with the wide and wild varieties of paints available. So you ask for the watercolours, acrylics, or oils. These are what most people start with when they start painting. Then, when you get to the right aisle, there are numerous brands, a wide range of price points and some mystery bottles labeled mediums. Where do you start? What do you buy? Why not start with the artist grade paints, I’m not in grade school. But then ypu notice the prices and the huge variety and it becomes even mpre overwhelming.

My advice is to start with a small ready made set of student quality paints and maybe get a bottle of gesso and some gel gloss medium. The student grade paints are still good paints and will give you a chance to see how the paint performs. Gesso will be good for prepping paper or adding an extra layer to canvas to make the surface less porous. Gel medium (gloss or matte) can be used to thin out paints or as a glue for collaging papers. These will help you decide what to come back for next time.

Having trouble making purple with your set? My guess is that you got cadmium red which is actually a warm red. The best red to make purples is not a red but magenta. Your greens are too vibrant? Try adding the complimentary red to tone them down. Or you can make a great army green with black and cad yellow. Maybe I should compose a post on colour mixing too.

Before I get too far off track, let me get back to artist grade paints.

You might be wondering when to switch to these. Once you have been immersed in the process of arting with the wide variety of student grade paints, you might find yourself on YouTube or in workshops gaining knowledge about pigment loads, chroma, tinting and staining strengths, and pigment types. Do you yearn for an opaque white? Do you understand that some pigments dry faster than others? Are you confident in being able to pick out a warm set of primaries from a cool set? If you have answered yes to thw majority of these, then it might be time to dip your toe in and get a few tubes of colours that you use often. Be forewarned that these become highly addictive and your tolerance for the price difference will grow, especially for desired pigments.

Now to begin exploring naturally occurring pigments vs man-made. One will call to you, maybe all will call to you. I do believe however, that this is where you will start to choose a colour palette that reflects your style. I have noticed that I am drawn to the quinacridones and the pthalos.


Layers of My Grief

12cm x 16cm on paper

I found an interesting opportunity to participate in an international charitable event, the Twitter Art Exhibition 2018. Each year, the organizers pick a charitable cause that will benefit from the sale of postcard original works created and donated by artists from all over the world.

Each post card size work is the same size, 12cm x 16cm. Since it’s being mailed to Canberra, Australia it is created on thick paper or cardstock. The deadline for submission is mid-March so I have already sent mine.

Created just after the Christmas season, this piece has elements of my grieving expressed. Having lost my father this past summer, this grief journey is still fresh. Being able to use art to work through my feelings has been helpful. I did not expect this past holiday season to be as difficult as it was. The layer of white gouache that dulls the underlying collaged tissue paper depicts how I experienced the process. Under the dullness there were some very raw edges. The pink represents the hole I still feel in my heart. Then there are the marks made; green watercolour bubbles, scratch like black ink lines, and red marker loops edging one of the tissue paper shapes. These represent other feelings because grief is not linear and not stable. It changes, it bubbles up when you least expect it. It can feel like it’s clawing at you dragging you down. But there are also moments when you are struck with a happy memory. There can be delicate beauty in the process.

I didn’t realize all that was expressed in the small piece until I had to give it a title. Like most of my art, when I was making it I was lost in a meditative right-hemisphere zone. Also, normally I invite the viewer to take away their own impressions. But for this one I feel compelled to explain what I see.

This piece which represents part of my grief journey is on its own journey to Australia. Maybe someone who is going through their own journey will find acknowledgment or solace from my expression.

Max Out on the Media

Layer after layer the paint is laid on. Paper is adhered and pastel sticks are used to make marks. The palette knife can be used to scrape and scratch through to what lies beneath.

Decisions are made over what kind of movement is needed with each layer. Will it be thick or thin or modified by a medium.

When should I stop? At what point is the composition interesting but not overworked?

Never get attached to a particular layer.

As I work on this series I imagine that the layers represent life events. Each canvas is a picture of someone’s experience, a window into their journey.

#process #mixedmedia #canadianartist #emergingartist #composition #creative #artistslife #art

Oil always love paint

minis in the grass

Since I picked up the brush again several years ago I have been enjoying (mostly) the process of laying the paint onto the canvas. There is a therapeutic moment when my left brain chatter shuts off and my right brain delight giggles. Like any other introvert, I can spend hours listening to my own brilliance and “the bitch”. The peace and joy that envelopes me as I slip into right hemisphere activity is a release into zen experience. I don’t recognize where I am or how much time is passing. I am just following the paint and my body feels fluid. If someone speaks to me during this time, it can take a while for my brain to recognize that the sensory input is speach and requires a response. I actually feel the left analytical processes kick in. I much prefer to listen to instrumental music during my studio time and for people to wait to comment until I’ve slipped back into my solidness.

We all have a creative part of our brain waiting to be released. Suppressed sometime in our childhood, it patiently waits while we complete our adult job. For those lucky enough to have never lost it I tip my hat. There are so many messages in society discouraging artistic spirits, calling them flighty and unfocused.

I’m so happy that I reconnected with my inner artist. She was not burried very deeply though. I remember going to galleries and being drawn closer and closer. I would look at the texture of the brush strokes and let the flow of the paint guide me around the canvas. Envious, I would deny that desire to make my own brush strokes. When I finally gave in, it was like there had been decades of art bottled up inside me and it needed to come out.

I work rather quickly. I’m starting to slow down a little with the use of oils. The explosion is done and my spirit is content with what has come forth. It also knows that there are many years ahead of paint, glorious paint.

I thank oils for settling me, acrylics for letting the explosion happen and watercolours for challenging me. I love using multiple mediums together, layered on top of one another (those long drying time oils last). I can’t see myself stopping. I am an artist and I love to express myself on the canvas.

billy the kid

Delightful poem by a fellow blogger.

Annette Rochelle Aben


Goat, don’t eat my coat

I’ll give you a can instead

I’ve plenty of those

Goat, leave me my threads

They won’t taste so good you know

Try paper instead

Goat, why you so gruff

You pretend to be so tough

But I doubt you bluff

Here goat, take the coat

Think I’ll keep my shoes instead

Are you happy now?

©2016 Annette Rochelle Aben

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