30 December 2013

little and big

I've been working very small for the last few months - the paperworks, the small abstract paintings, a few landscapes, a few skype portraits - with the exception of the work I finished for TREX, I've made nothing over 16x16 inches.

Ideas for larger work have been simmering in the back of my mind for awhile... but I've wanted to wait, tie up loose ends, give myself time to explore freely.  One must be ready for the planning and specific type of focus required to make big paintings.

This week I crossed that field.  Hauled out a stretcher measuring 73x21 inches and began playing with layouts:

steel sky woman

steel sky woman

steel sky woman

There are three elements here: a photo taken 2 years ago in Castro, Brasil; another photo taken 5 years ago in Toronto, Canada; an old canvas that I painted way back in 1997 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Below is the layout I went with.  Still needs a bit of work, but the base is there:

steel sky woman

Feels good to be working large again!

22 December 2013

season's greetings

Wishing you all a holiday season filled with love, peace and joy.
May 2014 bring renewed strength and unity among people in this ever-evolving world.

Starting today, the daylight hours are increasing!

Verna Vogel

18 December 2013

more skype portraits!

I have picked up doing skype portraits again.  Here are images from 2 sessions done over the last 5 days.  I love to work with people who will make portraits of me at the same time as I am making portraits of them.  

My portraits of Lori Lukasewich:

lori lukasewich by verna vogel
oil on primed 300lb archival paper
Graphite and acrylic in 9x12 sketchbook

Lori's portraits of me:

verna vogel by lori lukasewich
oil on canvas paper

verna vogel by lori lukasewich
charcoal on paper

My portraits of Veronica Funk:

skype portrait by verna vogel
graphite in 9x12 sketchbook
oil on birch panel, done over an old acrylic painting

Veronica made some drawings of me too:

verna vogel by veronica funk

These two women happen to be professional artists, but that is not a prerequisite for making portraits.  Anyone can do it!  

The trick is to lay aside any preconceived notion of how a portrait should look.  This is especially important when painting live from a computer screen, which is different from a photo and also different from being in the same room together.

Veronica also told me about another artist who makes portraits via skype: Barbara Muir.  I was sure there must be other artists who do this - but it never occurred to me to google it!  Well, it seems there is a whole world of artists using skype for making art!  How cool is that?  Very cool, says I.

If you are reading this blog post and think you might like to try doing a skype portrait with me, please contact me and I will give you more information on how I set up these sessions.  It's pretty informal, but there are some permissions I like to get before I post anything online, and a few other privacy protection details.

16 December 2013

Paperworks coming to fruition

I've been feeling a bit blue this week.  It's not the weather - I love snow - but rather, I think, the severely shortened days, lack of sunlight, and lack of family proximity.  For 25 years I've lived far away from my parents and siblings, who are all within a days' drive of one another but clear across the country from me.  Canada is a big country, and after all this time I think the distance between us is catching up with me.

Not feeling very driven to create in my studio, I have instead turned my attention to documenting some of my recent work.  Here's a portfolio of the paperworks.  Please feel free to have a look, and feedback is welcome.

In that portfolio the images are cropped, so the beautiful edges of the paper cannot be seen.  Here are a few less-cropped examples:

These works will need to be framed, so I'm thinking will send them to one of my galleries that does framing.  Seems easier that way, as shipping framed work can be a bit of a hassle.  

Meanwhile, perhaps I ought to re-photograph them on a plain backing rather on my easel as shown here.  That way the edges of the paper could remain visible, and the images would look more professional than these...

07 December 2013


I have just updated my website's Portfolio page.

This has been quite an endeavour, because I explore many themes and processes on a regular basis.  I want to show the different sides of my artistic practice, but also want to maintain some form of cohesiveness.

snow window, steel sky woman

Updating one's website seems an appropriate endeavour for a snow day.  Just look at that drift.  :)

05 December 2013

the search

I am on a search.

Last week I made some abstract paintings.  How I made them was to make some loose, strong brush marks on canvases that had already been painted with washes of colour.  I like the results very much:

verna vogel

Those first ones were a lot of fun - they seemed effortless because I painted them quickly.  Well, the coloured ground took some time to make, but the finishing went very fast.  

This week I've been trying to make more abstract paintings, and it has not been effortless!  

Isn't it interesting how, so often, the first time you do something it just flows, but when you try to recreate the flow later it doesn't want to happen.  I remind myself that whatever happens, it will at least make a ground for a future painting.

verna vogel

Above photo - the one on the left is nice but not quite exciting.  The one on the right was made really slowly, with many stops for consideration.  I'm not sure if I like it.  I tell myself "what do you want, a formula?"  No way.  I had a formula for 5-6 years with those glazed city paintings and that was good for awhile but then it got boring.  Now I am on a search.  

verna vogel

Yesterday's work - a few more starts and building up the grounds.

verna vogel

Here used photoshop to desaturate, which I like very much!  Perhaps today I will focus on using neutral tones.

This is the search.  It feels very clumsy and awkward sometimes, and I have to remind myself that sometimes discomfort is an indication of growth.

01 December 2013

Draw 'Til You Drop - part II

life drawing - steel sky woman
mixed media on paper
9x12, 12x16 inches
Nov 30 and Dec 1, 2013

Well that was really, really fun and also really exhausting!  Being around so many people for so long was quite a challenge for me.  However, we were all mostly focussed on our work, so it was not like having to talk to people for that long.  Here are a few of my favourite pieces from the weekend:

figure drawing - verna vogel

figure drawing - verna vogel

life drawing - steel sky woman

life drawing - steel sky woman

figure drawing - verna vogel

life drawing - steel sky woman

This last one is interesting - I know how to render what I see fairly accurately, but I get bored with that. I'd rather be working fast, with colour, and make expressive things: I'd rather catch the feeling of the model than their exact proportions...  interesting how so many people do not respond to work unless it is "accurate" though.

So on the way home I had this little thought: it has been said that my urban paintings are interesting because they do not show any specific city, they just show "city"....  well lo and behold, seems I like to draw "human" rather than any specific human.

One day I will scan and upload images of my life drawings from 10-15 years ago.  I was doing the same thing then: catching the human.

oh, p.s.: about the panels I prepped in the last post - wound up using only 1 of them.  Haha.

29 November 2013

draw 'til you drop!

This weekend I will be going to "draw 'til you drop" and I'm really looking forward to it!  I have not done life drawing (except portraits) in over 10 years, so this should be interesting.

I have prepared a number of panels - old paintings gesso'd over.  Then I tested one by doing this:

I wasn't sure if the border thing would look good - I made the border by taping off the edges before applying gesso.  This seems to work OK, with the drawing going over the border...

24 November 2013


My work has been accepted into a TREX exhibition!  I feel very honoured to have my paintings shown along with the work of several other artists in "Eye And The City", which will travel throughout southwestern Alberta for two years, beginning in mid-2014.

Shane Golby, a visual artist himself and the travelling exhibitions manager/curator, made a studio visit two weeks ago and we had a great conversation about life, art, the urban phenomenon, the universe and everything.  As a result of our conversation, I have been thinking more deeply about my work and about connections.  

A comment about the history of stitching on one of my recent blog posts underlined an idea about where my work comes from and how it connects to my life and my family's history.  I've spent the last two weeks writing and thinking a lot, and tonight have finished the final draft of a new artist statement.  Read on...

verna vogel


My childhood was spent on a farm in southwestern Ontario, but I have lived almost all my adult life in the downtown core of one city or another across Canada. Having roots in a rural environment has shaped the way I view urban life.

It can be exciting and sometimes overwhelming to be in an environment with so much sensory stimulation, especially if you are not used to that type of environment. My first impression of city life was that there is a lot of information coming in very fast! Lots of lights at night. Sirens near and far. So many layers of buildings. So many people. Everything moving all the time. That first impression has not changed much, even after many years of city living. The energy of urban places still feels exciting and irresistible to me, and this feeling continues to inspire my work.

A city is a place of concentrated human energy, full of human-made things. Even the green spaces in an urban environment are made by people, or at least they are managed, cultivated, and made accessible for almost everyone in a way that the countryside is not. The most deliberately designed urban green spaces may feature highly manicured, symmetrical rows of trees and evenly spaced flower beds. Urban grey spaces, though equally deliberately designed, do not adhere to the perfection of their architectural elevation drawings: you can find meandering footprints on straight sidewalks, random patterns of discarded chewing gum on neat squares of concrete, and other signs of resistance to the order of human design.

This type of environment, where almost everything is human-made but not entirely under human control, is quite fascinating. Why do we build cities? Why do we build them the way we do?

There is some personal history in my stitching of the canvas, too. My parents immigrated to Canada after they got married; my father is from Brasil and my mother from Holland. My father learned to farm from his father, and my mother learned to sew from her mother.

During my childhood, my father built barns and designed machinery, and my mother sewed for people. She worked at the kitchen table in the evenings, and used wonderful fabrics - silk and satin and organza, intricate laces and beads, shiny embroidery thread - to make wedding dresses. Those beautiful dresses were a big contrast to the world of livestock and crops that is a farm.

When I grew up I moved far away from my family, too. I became an artist. Sewing is part of my work, but instead of using beautiful fabrics to make wedding dresses in the midst of farm life, I use common materials - canvas, burlap, a torn sweater, bits and pieces found on the street – to make beautifully designed paintings in the midst of the an urban environment.

Although in many ways my city life is very different from my parents' farm lives, which in turn were different from their parents' lives in Holland and Brasil, you could say that our histories are stitched together.

I didn't think about it too much at first, but gradually I saw that cities are mostly built by men, and sewing is mostly done by women – and here I am, in effect, building cities with my sewing machine.

Verna Vogel, 2013

Here is the work which will go into the exhibition:

verna vogel
Fire Escape
mixed media on stitched canvas
22w x 25h inches

verna vogel
One Hundred and Eighty Degrees
mixed media on stitched canvas
32w x 21h inches

verna vogel
mixed media on stitched canvas
27w x 23h inches

verna vogel
Just Turn Your Head a Little
mixed media on stitched canvas
24w x 30h inches

21 November 2013


Doing that album cover art donation for UAS and then taking Lori's workshop right after really got a creative ball rolling!

I've spent the last few weeks working on paper.  Really enjoying the textures, the way the surface takes colour, the torn edges, and also the small size of these works.  With great originality and specificity I refer to this series as my paperworks.


I imagine they'll need to be framed to show them... I've rarely framed work so that will be part of the experiment too.


Below are some of them pinned up in the hallway for curing, which takes a week or two.  Acrylic dries fast, but also needs to cure or else the surfaces will stick to one another if they are stored for even a short time.


These small pieces have been great fun, but now I'm starting to think about working large again...

12 November 2013

08 November 2013

second winter

The fence paintings are beginning their second winter.  Here photographed today while it was snowing:

verna vogel

So far holding up very well.  I photograph them once per month or so, and had thought the elements might bring about more degeneration by now.  I am very curious and excited about documenting the process of their decay, but I begin to realize this project will take much longer than I initially thought!  

There are a few tiny cracks that don't seem to be growing any more... but other than that and a mess of spiderwebs and dead leaves collecting in the backs of the stretcher frames, they seem pretty stable.  Perhaps a future critical point will be reached and they will suddenly fall apart.  Better keep my camera ready.  :)

06 November 2013

progression of the paperworks

A few examples of progression of the paperworks.

verna vogel

First incarnation of the idea: 1. gesso the paper, 2. stitch, 3. seal, 4. paint.
Here the paint settles into the stitched surface textures.  I thought they looked a bit flat, though, so...

Second batch of explorations: 1. paint the paper, 2. seal, 3. stitch, 4. a bit more painting.
This order of events creates more depth behind the stitching.  But now there is a busy-ness that does not quite appeal, so...

verna vogel

Third trial: this time using black printing ink!
These are just begun.  Top row is simply printing ink washed into untreated paper.  Lower three are the same ink washed over pieces which I didn't like from the previous trials.  There is some subtlety of colour which does not photograph well.  I very much like the texture and flow of the ink.

I'm really enjoying these explorations.  Working on small sizes and in multiples is relaxing, gets my brain meandering.  

Sometimes it seems to me that I do lots of different things in the studio and they are not always related.  Today I thought, "well, by the time I'm in my 80's the pattern of my work will be more evident".  Already I begin to see it, dimly at first but growing clearer.

30 October 2013

learning things

painting with mixed media

I recently took a weekend-long acrylic workshop with artist Lori Lukasewich.  She is an excellent artist who has explored many interesting ideas in her work, and we have shown at the same gallery for a few years but I've only talked with her briefly a couple of times before now.  It was great to get to know her better this weekend.
It was a kind of beginner's workshop, seeming theoretically beneath my level - but in reality nothing is "beneath my level".  One can learn a lot from any experience by keeping an open mind, and I really needed to get back to some basics.  Being with other artists all learning something new together was very invigorating!

painting with mixed media
acrylic paint and paper collage
on gesso'd watercolour paper
Lori is a wonderful teacher and facilitator, very knowledgeable about art materials.  She demonstrated various acrylic processes and techniques and then we all had fun experimenting, sometimes pushing things too far and making a mess of our work, haha!  At which point  Lori reminded us that pushing things too far is a vital step in the process of art-making: if you never push it too far, how will you know when to stop?  How will you go beyond making work that is safe and uninspired?  This is a very good point.  By pushing our boundaries and NOT playing it safe, at the end of the workshop each of us had made at least one piece that we were proud of, and a we all took away a lot of ideas and inspiration.

mixed media painting
acrylic paint, stencils, lace pieces
on gesso'd watercolour paper

I have definitely been feeling constrained and uninspired in the studio lately - in a word, safe.  Having committed to producing yet more urban paintings, I find I've tied myself up!  

One thing I really appreciated about Lori's workshop was when she talked about some of her early experiences as an artist, when she made intensely detailed paintings.  These paintings are very beautiful and accomplished, but eventually she cracked up over them, and this led to a deeper understanding of herself and her own creative process.  
Well I've been feeling bit cracked-up lately, my stitched urban paintings feeling tedious rather than joyful.  And really, what is the point of working that way?  I believe we are on this earth in order to experience joy, but sometimes we get lost.

acrylic painting
acrylic paint and paper collage
on cradled wood panel

Well then.  Starting this week I've just been painting what I like without pressuring myself for results.  To be sure, the promised urban paintings will be finished on time - but that time is not right now.  And lo and behold, by letting go of that pressure I've made some work I'm really pleased with!  Go figure huh.  

collage painting

The one at top left in the photo above was made during the workshop, my one beautiful piece that I am proud of.  It was an abstract painting that I'd begun but didn't know how to realize.  Lori taught me some techniques for paper collage, which I used on that unfinished painting to very good effect.  Then I went home and did some more collaging over some more half-finished abstract paintings.  Whee!  Feeling very good energy working this way. 

Besides renewing my creative freedom by taking Lori's workshop, I've been exploring the possibilities of stitched paper work.

paper works
first stitching

painting on paper
then painting
I'm quite excited about these little pieces.  They are kind of a melding of my previous abstract works and the album cover I made for the UAS fundraiser.   Life in the studio feels good again.  What fun!

abstract paintings

25 October 2013

album cover art

The very first studio I rented in this city was managed by the Untitled Art Society, an organization which is committed to providing affordable communal studio space for emerging artists.  Over the years, the UAS has grown and evolved into a registered non-profit society.  As well as the original studios located on the 4th floor of an old industrial building downtown, they now operate the "Satellite Gallery", a street-level exhibition space near the studio building.

The UAS recently did a call out to members who have shown at the Satellite Gallery, to create artwork using albums - ah, vinyl! - for a fundraising event.  I almost always create work for UAS's fundraisers because I think what they are doing is very important in the art community.

For this experiment, I used a record of Burl Ives singing "The Little White Duck and Other Children's Favourites".  I found the whole album on youtube and listened to it while working, which was an interesting cultural experience, ha.  Times have sure changed.

To make these pieces, first I carefully took apart the album cover to make two square pieces of cardboard.  I coated each piece with clear acrylic medium to seal it, then I stitched in some textured things.  I decided to cradle the stitched cardboard pieces before layering on the colour.  The final layer was clear medium with a tiny bit of gold paint, which created a really nice kind of old patina effect, but it doesn't show up in these photos unfortunately.

The front of the album cover shows Burl Ives with his guitar and a group of children.  Not so visually interesting for me, so I used the inside.  I gesso'd it before stitching.

burl ives

burl ives

burl ives

I wish I had taken a photo of the inside of this piece, with the cradling wood glued to the album cover image and the stitching running over Burl and the children.  The painted part looks precious with its hint of old gold - but on the inside there is a total disregard for the image and all it represents... or maybe it's more of a "stitching the new onto the old foundation" kind of thing.  

The back of the album had these interesting little images for advertising more albums, so I kept that in the work.

burl ives

burl ives

burl ives

One of the great benefits of creating work for fundraisers is that I try new things, change my process a bit, and sometimes I get really inspired by the work!

I just loved working with the cardboard album cover pieces.  They were easy to stitch through and the texture of the paper contrasted nicely with the texture of the bits of canvas I stitched onto them - a lovely combination of surfaces to paint on.  I think I will be doing some more paper/stitching experiments in the near future!