With These Hands

In yesterday’s blog post I talked about one of the themes of my current solo exhibit being finding strength where others may perceive weakness.  This, my final new piece for this exhibit, fully encapsulates that theme.

This piece was inspired by the life experience of a very good friend of mine.  She has had rheumatoid arthritis since she was a teenager.   These are her hands.

To those on the outside looking in her hands probably appear gnarled or misshapen and even maybe an impediment to her daily living.  To those who are close to her, however, we know better.  I have seen my friend doing all sorts of things with these hands.  Her children are the same age as mine and these hands spend a good deal of her days lifting her little one, changing diapers, preparing yet another meal, pushing strollers and getting her older child ready for school.  I’ve seen her at the gym, working out sometimes three times a week.  These hands support her weight and lift weights.   These hands have played piano for years and will in the near future take her to her dream of teaching piano to children.   There is absolutely nothing that I have not seen these hands do.

"With These Hands" by Karen D. Miller (left hand detail)

“With These Hands” by Karen D. Miller (left hand detail)

It was her strength that I wanted to capture in this piece.  The hands are large in order to capture the detailing and nuances of her hand structure.   But the size also emphasizes that they are strong, not weak.  The metal railing behind the piece adds both interest to the composition as well as further supporting the notion of strength and power where others may perceive frailty.

"With these Hands" by Karen D. Miller (right hand detail)

“With these Hands” by Karen D. Miller (right hand detail)

This is my first piece made completely from sculptural hooking.  It was an extremely challenging piece to make because until the very end you weren’t quite sure if it would pull together properly and “work.”   And it was very important to capture all of the characteristics of the actual hands or else the statement would be lost.

The piece is comprised of approximately 30 hooked segments that were then sewn together and subsequently fitted over a styrofoam form that I had made of the hands.  There was a lot of trial and error involved- the hooked portions had to be removed many times in order to allow for more shaving of the form if any of the sizing or creases in the hands felt wrong.   There were times when I wasn’t sure that the piece would be ready in time for the exhibit but I also knew that this piece was both very important to me and to the concept of the show, so I was thrilled when it all came together and was able to be hung.

All of the pieces in my current exhibit have challenged me and allowed me to grow as an artist.  But I think this is the one that gave me the most lessons, the most challenges and the most feeling of pride in the end.   I look forward to taking what I have learned from this piece and applying it to future sculptural pieces- there is something absolutely wonderful about the dimensionality that can be achieved in this way.




Photos of this new piece tend to be deceptive. Firstly, they don’t capture the true size. This work measures almost 7 feet in height. Secondly, some think that because of the simplicity of the design that the piece was “easy” to put together.  This overlooks the complexity of the overall composition, as well as the behind the scenes work that went into the creation of the piece.

The main theme of my current solo exhibit, Frame / fraym is as follows:  “Frames give the world its form, shape and structure.  This solo exhibition explores framed views, frames unveiled and hidden frames that bend beneath us, forcing us to show the strength that we possess in their absence.”   My piece ‘Misaligned’ falls under the latter category.   The inspiration for this piece comes from my own experience of having scoliosis- which is a curvature of the spine.  I was diagnosed with scoliosis when I was 11 or 12 years old.  As the curve progressively worsened, I ended up having to wear a back brace for the first two years of high school.  This custo- made, specially molded hunk of plastic that I had to wear for 23 out of 24 hours a day is very likely what saved me from having to have surgery on my back.  For that I am very thankful.

When I was younger I didn’t really see what the big deal about having scoliosis was.  As I have gotten older I get it now.  I am more aware of the stiffness and pain.  I know what my limitations are in terms of what I can lift and how long I can be on my feet without a rest.  I don’t by any stretch of the imagination see it is a disability- there are people suffering from much worse and it is certainly a manageable condition.  But it also a condition that I am aware of on a daily basis.

I wanted to explore my own personal experience with scoliosis in the creation of this piece.  It began as the idea that I wanted to represent lines that would be staggered to represent the misalignment of the vertebrae of someone with scoliosis.  I initially cut out the rectangles in paper so that I could play around with the layout.  As you can see here, I originally thought that I would have a rectangle for each vertebra.  Once I saw the design on the floor, I realized that it was way too busy and so I dropped the number drastically.  This allowed me to achieve the design that I had envisioned.


The next step was to get the wood.  We had to do a special order to get the three planks of cherry wood that was needed for the composition.  Then, while I got down to hooking the rectangles my husband got down to cutting out the rectangles in the design that I had decided on.  As I wanted the three planks to be staggered instead of flush against each other this added another dimension of difficulty for him in cutting out the slots.  But he managed it beautifully.


In April the snow had melted enough to take the piece outside to do all the sanding and varnishing.   I saw the shadow of the piece on the deck, with all of the slots cut out, and I knew then that it was going to work and that it was going to be great.


The final step was to insert the panels that I had hooked in various shades of red- from lightest to darkest.


The hooked panels represent the vertebrae of the spine misaligned in someone with scoliosis.  But the strong panels of cherry show the strength that is found elsewhere in the body to support the weakened core.   The overall impression that I want this piece to give is one of strength, not weakness.

I am so pleased with how this piece turned out- it makes a real statement when hung in a gallery setting.  And I am very happy that I am at last starting to gain the confidence to look more inwards in my work and am finding a way to represent myself and my feelings within my pieces.



For awhile now I have been trying to figure out how I could achieve a more “delicate” look in my hooking.  I really love the work of Toronto based textile artist Amanda McCavour and her light and airy embroideries.  But achieving that while still using the technique of hooking is not easy.  All of the traditional backing materials are thicker and heavier by nature- primarily because they have to support bulky yarns and wool strips.

In my attempts at delicacy I tried a number of more innovative backing fabrics.  But each and every one didn’t give me quite the ‘lightness’ that I was looking for.   In that vein, I stumbled on crinoline and thought that it might be the answer.  It was thick enough to support my loops of yarn, but unfortunately still didn’t quite get me to my vision.

That left me with tulle.   My first attempt at hooking directly onto tulle was a disaster.  One wrong move- yarn that is too thick, a hook that is too thick, a hook that snags on the tulle or a mistaken snip of the scissors- and there was an irreparable hole in the oh so fragile tulle.  Countless pieces were balled up and tossed to the floor in despair.  I came very, very close to giving up.

But, I have this very strong stubborn streak.  Once I try something it is very difficult to get me to give up.  So I persevered.  And before long I had one successful panel, and then another and another.



This piece was inspired by lichen that I saw on a rock on Fogo Island in Newfoundland.  I loved the organic shapes and the colours of the lichen. The tulle achieves exactly what I was looking for.  It gives the piece delicacy and makes the lichen appear to almost be floating in the frame.  Because the backing material (the tulle) is see through, I did not want there to be a backing on the piece.  This led to some creative framing but in the end it worked.   And to my delight the lack of backing allows the shadows of the hooked pieces to enter into the composition.  I really want to continue to play and experiment with the concept of including light and shadow in the piece itself.  The piece also has a lot of interesting negative space which draws the viewer in.

At my exhibit this piece has garnered a lot of attention.  People always want to reach out and touch the hooked portions as if they can’t believe that they are floating before their eyes.   Tulle has proven to be a wonderful backing fabric that will allow me to explore many more artistic ideas as I continue to experiment with it and explore its possibilities.




This piece is my first three- panelled “triptych.”  I’ve really liked the look of multi-panelled pieces ever since I first saw my friend Kathy Taylor’s graffiti-inspired pieces.  I’ve had it in the back of my mind for awhile now that I would like to give it a try.

‘Remembrance’ is comprised of three different techniques.  The hooked portion of the piece uses hand-dyed wool that I dyed specifically for this composition.  Remember when I posted photos of myself finally tackling dyeing?  Well, this is what I used the yarn for.   It really came down to being unable to find the exact colour that I knew I wanted to use.  It had to be something that would be bright and have a lot of impact, and really set off the brown of the tree.  I am so glad that I tried dyeing my own yarn for this.  The colours came out perfectly, there is a really nice gradation of colour across the piece and it has really opened my eyes to the amount of control that you can have over your colours if you do it yourself.

The tree is not hooked.  Instead I sewed individual strips of silk sari ribbon to the backing.  I wanted to the tree to really stand out and have a lot of texture.  Sewing silk sari ribbon to a piece is something that I have done in a number of pieces in the past and have really enjoyed the look.  I especially like how it turned out here- by allowing the silk sari to retain its natural “crinkles” it resulted in the strips looking very much like tree bark.   It has added so much texture to the final composition.


remembrance 2

I made the leaves from clay. I have had these leaves sitting in my studio for about two years now.  I took a pottery class with my daughter and these were the project that I decided to work on.  I had the germ of an idea that I could integrate it somehow with my hooking, but hadn’t completely figured the whole design out quite yet.  When I came up with the idea for ‘Remembrance’ I knew that it was time to use the leaves.  The leaves have been fired in the kiln but not glazed as I wanted them to retain a natural, organic look.  There are three slightly different shades amongst the eleven leaves which adds a bit of variety just as you would find on a tree in nature.

I love the three dimensional effect that the leaves give.  So many people at the exhibit have wanted to reach out and touch them.  This was exactly what I was hoping for.  This piece measures 51.5″ x 20″.

remembrance 3



Frame / fraym

If you follow me on Facebook then you probably already know all about the opening of my exhibit this past week and have seen most of the photos.  But for those who follow me solely through this blog, I am finally getting around to playing catch-up and posting some photos here!

It has been a really crazy last couple of weeks.  The last two weeks before the exhibit opened were a whirlwind of last minute details and extra touches.  I was extremely excited and grateful to receive the news a couple of weeks ago that I was one of the recipients of an ARTicipate grant through Arts Ottawa East (AOE) that could be used towards my exhibit.  That funding allowed me to do a lot of promotional things that I otherwise would have been unable to do.  As soon as we knew we had that green light we sprang into action ordering postcards and organizing an unaddressed admail campaign through Canada Post.  We also had an exhibit brochure that we designed (and then thankfully remembered to send off to a translator for the French text!) printed up.  Our house filled with boxes and last minute framing materials.  It was a crazy, crazy time but in the end with the wonderful and much needed help of my husband and kids we got it all done!

Last Wednesday was set up day at the gallery.  My husband dropped off the bigger and heavier pieces for me first thing in the morning and then the kids and I brought by the rest in the afternoon.  I can’t begin to say how nice it is to live just minutes from the gallery!  Almost all of the past shows that I have participated in have been at least a 3 to 5 (or more!) hour drive away so this was a really pleasant change.  And, I can stop by the gallery whenever I want!

The Trinity Gallery at the Shenkman Arts Centre is beautiful.  Everyone who sees it is blown away by what a nice space it is.  I feel so fortunate to have such a place in my own community.  And the staff there is beyond helpful.  They took such great care of my work and did all the hanging for me- it was so appreciated, especially with two kids in tow with limited patience!


I’m not sure I can describe the feeling that I had when I went back to see the exhibit all hung the next night.  I remember standing in the Arts Centre several years ago when I was participating in a group show there and thinking how cool it would be to have my own exhibit in that same space.  But I didn’t really, at that point, think it could happen.  And now it has.  I don’t think I can say enough times that if you work hard enough and persevere, things will happen for you and your dreams will come true.  I absolutely believe this.

I’m really happy with how my information table (does it have another, more formal name??) looks.   As I have been posting on Facebook all of the promotional things that I had printed up, more and more people were making comments like “you are really making this your own” and “you are owning this.”  That was totally what I was trying to do.   At the end of the day I wanted to make sure that I had done everything in my power to get my name out there and to make people aware that the show is going on.  I really feel like I’ve left no stone unturned.  Some of my attempts may turn out to have been less than fruitful (I’m not totally convinced that the mail-out campaign in the end was worth it) but at least in doing those things I am armed with information as to what I would use again for a future exhibit or not, rather than wondering “what if I had tried this or that.”  I have really given this my all.


This past Sunday was the Opening Reception.  It was a pretty cool experience.  I have been to many openings before, but always as one of a group of artists.  Being the only artist in a room full of your own art is, well, awesome.  To look around the room and to see that all of your hard work (because trust me, it has been a lot of hard work and long hours to get to this point) has paid off, is so extremely rewarding.

There was a good steady stream of people that came by during the afternoon.  I think it is really hard in the summer to get people out to things.  And it was a really nice sunny day so that made it even harder.

That being said, though, I got the chance to have some really great conversations with other local fibre artists who dropped by to see my show and the adjoining show (which was also a textile exhibit).  And I got to showcase my medium of hooked fibre to those who weren’t already aware of it or who had never seen it being used in the way that I use it.  And I can’t say enough about how good it made me feel to see people I know come to show their support for me.  For people to have taken time out of their day and schedules to stop by just to let me know that they were excited for me was huge and so meaningful.

It was really interesting in talking to people to see that everyone has a different “favourite” piece.  My ‘Undeveloped Memories’ piece lacks some of its impact in photos, I find, but in person it was almost universally a crowd favourite.  It was also very gratifying to see that the new pieces that I have been working on were really well received and it has helped to bolster my confidence as I continue to explore these new directions. And it always gave me a boost when people recognized that I have really moved in a new direction and am pushing my comfort zone.  People still like some of the older pieces too, like “Solitude” and “Ghost Trees.”   It was a real mix and meant that there was something to talk about with everyone who came through as there was always at least one piece that they could identify with.


This whole journey has been equal parts tough and exhausting, and exhilarating and rewarding.  I wouldn’t change a thing.  The lessons I am taking away from this and the confidence I am gaining can only mean that there will be even more great things ahead.

The exhibit runs until September 22nd.



For my current exhibit I knew that I wanted to explore my tree series of pieces at least one more time.   I was inspired by a stand of sumac down by the Ottawa River.  The branches of it are so gnarled and…..well…twisted.  I thought they would be perfect to translate into fibre.  So one day last fall I went down to the river with my camera in hand and got right up into the sumac and snapped a photo.  And that is how my “Twisted” piece came about.

I love the red background and how it really sets off the silvers and the white of the piece.  Again this was inspired by the actual colour of the red on the sumac.   In order to make the custom frame recede from the piece it was also painted the same shade of red so that it didn’t detract the eye from the piece itself.

This piece marked my first exploration in “hooked sculpture.”  The white branches were actually hooked separately and then attached to the piece.  This three dimensionality adds both interest and texture to the piece that I haven’t been able to achieve before. Working with the sculptural segments really got me thinking of the branches and trunks of trees as the “bones” of a tree and this set the stage for my further explorations in sculpture that I will show you soon.

The piece measures 17″ x 32″ and uses a lot of metallic yarns to provide the extra shine and interest that is a key component to all of my tree series pieces.  I’m really happy with how this piece turned out and the possibilities that it has opened up in terms of three dimensionality.



Undeveloped Memories- The Redo

I’m so excited that my solo exhibit is now open and I can finally show you all of the new work that I have been producing since late last year!

This first piece isn’t completely new.  I showed it to you in a blog post before and it was also on exhibit in the group show that I was in this past March at Todmorden Mills in Toronto.   I think, actually, that it was seeing it in that show that made me realize that the framing of it was all wrong for the piece.  If you recall, it was previously framed in a six panel old window frame.   But this piece is so contemporary that it was really not a great match.   The presentation was far too flat.

Luckily my husband also agreed with me and we set out to design a new look for the piece.   What we came up with I think suits the piece perfectly.  The frame itself is as abstract as the hooked panels and the piece makes a much greater impact than it did before.

“Undeveloped Memories” explores the concept of the abstraction of human memories:  Who do our memories belong to and what makes an experience memorable?   What is the effect on a memory if its components are reordered and abstracted?  And lastly, what is the effect on a captured memory if it is viewed by someone outside of the experience- what does the interpretation of the viewer bring to the understanding of the memory.

This piece measures 42″ x 48″.



Art with Kids: Simply Drawing

It was very interesting when we were away on vacation. I had brought a lot of art materials with us to do some scheduled art activities with the kids. What the kids ended up enjoying just as much if not more, though, was just drawing and painting scenes of what they were seeing around them.


They were so into it that we ended up creating a makeshift craft station in a corner of the floor. I put down an old plastic tablecloth that I had brought with me and the pastels and crayons stayed out for the entire vacation. The kids would gravitate to the “art station” while waiting for meals or when taking a break from the beach. I found it extremely heartening to watch these little beings want to express themselves artistically, time and time again.

They did so much art that one day we actually had to take a trip to the local toy and art supply store. There we stocked up on more crayons, construction paper, watercolour paper. It was a surprisingly well-stocked little store for such a small island and we had a lot of fun picking out the things that we wanted.

I’ve tried to apply the same concept at home now. Both kids are old enough for the crayons and markers to stay out instead of tucked away up high. They have their own stack of paper that they can grab from whenever they want and a little table all their own to draw at. I also snagged a fantastic double-sided easel for free and it is out for the kids to draw on with markers or chalk whenever they like. Trust me-
it gets a lot of use.

While planning specific art projects is a lot of fun, there is a lot of fun to be had too in keeping it simple.



Camping Long Weekend

I really love this time of year!  Camping season is absolutely one of my fave things to do.  I’m not sure exactly what it is that I love about it- I suspect it has something to do with the feeling that it is just the four of us pulling together as a team when we are setting up our home in the woods.

This past long weekend we went on our first camping trip of 2015.  As I remarked while we were there, we are far from camping novices now as we have been camping at least twice a year for a number of years now.  So we are getting a real grasp on what we like about a campsite.  And I do a fair bit of research in advance about the campsite as a whole and the actual site that we have booked to make sure as much as I can in advance that it will be a good experience.

This time we camped at Achray in Algonquin Park, and let me just say that so far this was our favourite campsite.  I have loved quite a few of the spots we have gone to so this is saying a lot.



Our campsite was spacious and just beyond the trees was our own direct access to the sandy beach along Grand Lake. The kids loved that they could run up and down from the tent area to the beach.  There was always a nice breeze coming up off of the lake which helped to cut down on mosquitoes, and even though it rained off and on several times over the weekend, my husband had strung up a tarp over our tent so we were snug and dry.  Everything was absolutely perfect.





On the first night, after we had set everything up and had dinner, my daughter and I headed for a walk on The Jack Pine Trail.  Just before you head into the woods there was this beautiful little pond.


And on that pond there were at least two beaver dams.  This one was huge.  Super cool to be able to see it right up close as it was right beside the path.


My goal in walking the trail was to find this- the spot where Tom Thomson sketched out his painting “The Jack Pine.”   Even though the sky was darkening and it felt like a storm was looming I tried to really be in the moment and take in the significance of that spot.


Because of the placement of the sign it was hard to get a photo from the actual angle of his painting but I tried my best and I think this photo still captures the feel of the area.


It was a wonderful weekend, lots of new camping memories were made.  I can’t wait to go back to this site with my little family!  🙂