Artist Interview: Sarah Gee

I had the pleasure of viewing the work of Sarah Gee in person for the first time at the Monument(al) group Show last year – a beautifully curated exhibition also featuring work by Jessica Bell and Aaron Moran. Sarah’s work is bold, colourful, and plays with intricate shape and form to create her compositions. I was smitten with her work, and I think you will be too.

Sarah in her studio

Tell us about yourself:
I’m a bit of a loner, and like to go my own way. I’m largely self-taught, which means I’d rather explore on my own and make mistakes than be taught the right way to do anything. I’ve had a lot of physical hardship in my life, and it’s made me quite self-contained and self-sufficient – I think I would do quite well in a post apocalyptic world. I’d be the one making a water filtration system out of scavenged pantyhose and sewing machine parts.

How long have you been an artist and how did you become one?
I’ve been doing this hard-edged geometrical collage work for about three years. Before that, I did a lot of waiting around for something good to happen, trying to keep my head above water. I’ve been a bookseller, I’ve done manual paste-up for a newspaper, designed textiles, worked in a chocolate factory. For a long time I made photo-realist figurative textile pieces that were quite popular with people but for me were just a placeholder until the right thing came along. And now it has.

Do you work full time or part time as an artist? If part-time, what do you do to support yourself?
I am able to work full time as an artist only because I have a wonderful and supportive husband with a steady paycheque. Otherwise I couldn’t do it at all. Vancouver is a tough city to be in the arts. Government funding is at an all-time low, and galleries, theatres and artist-run centers are closing down. Mostly, when people aren’t slaving away at their desks trying to make a down payment on a condo, they’re snowboarding at Whistler. Yes, there are curators and amazing galleries and people who love the arts, but it feels very subculture to me, very marginal. I hope that will change in a few years.

Work in progress on the studio table.

What are some of your favourite materials to work with?
I work almost exclusively with archival, cotton-based paper. I love Clairefontaine Maya paper, a richly colour-saturated heavy cardstock with absolutely no texture to it. Because my collages often have large glued elements, I need a heavy weight, maybe 140 to 300lb., in order not to have warping. I’m also madly in love with my Plexiglas templates, which I had fabricated for me. They’re so simple and so beautiful.

Targets on the studio floor

Tell us a bit about the process you go through to create your work:
My work is precise and detailed, which means I do a lot of preparation, taking careful measurements, dry fitting, making sure things will come out the way I intend them to. It’s a lot like composing music, the individual notes mean little until they combine into a melody. Mostly I don’t know until the end if I’ve made something good, or a complete disaster. One of the things I’ve struggled with is learning to waste paper through experimentation or at least fearless creating. I’ve been in extreme poverty a couple of times in my life and I can feel the echo of it every time I make a tiny mistake that ruins a piece of matte board I just spent eight dollars on.

"Last Night" by Sarah Gee

"Playing with Fire" by Sarah Gee

Where do you find inspiration for your work, and what keeps you motivated?
I’m not really a worldly person or a particularly referential artist. For example, I don’t look at a sunset or snowy mountain and feel it has a place in my inspiration file. I don’t travel or take reference photographs. I don’t even sketch all that often. Instead I’m seeking to create balance and harmony through geometrical arrangements, arrive at some kind of inner resolution. So I guess both the inspiration and motivation comes from self-determination. That sounds really, really boring, I know.

"Receptor" by Sarah Gee

Tell us about other artists who have inspired you:
I’m inspired by the hard-edged painters who came to prominence in the sixties and seventies, Frank Stella, Tadasky, Josef Albers, Frank Hammersley, Miguel Angel Vidal, as well as our own Vancouver artists like Michael Morris and Gary Lee-Nova. I also like anything obsessive, when you get the sense, when looking at a piece of art, that the person who made it was inventing deeply private formulas, ways of seeing, in order to make sense of the world. When I see “Outsider” artists working in complete isolation, like the astonishing Archilles Rizzoli, Henry Darger or James Hampton, making beautiful things despite a life of deprivation and no schooling, I’m so moved by that.

Where can people find you both online and offline:
People can find my website at I have a gallery and a blog called Studio Life there.

They can also follow me on Twitter @SarahGeeArt

Artist Interview: Kirsti Wakelin

The artist interview series continues this week with my good friend, Kirsti Wakelin. She is a talented graphic designer, an illustrator of numerous children’s books, and is highly skilled at drawing and painting.

Read on for more about Kirsti and her work.

Painting at Yesnaby, Orkney. (photo by Darren Carcary)

Tell us about yourself:
I am a designer and illustrator. I dabble in a few different disciplines – a product of the times I guess, and my desire to constantly try new things. I studied graphic design and illustration and have worked as both for the past 14 years. My work within those fields is pretty diverse as well.

How long have you been an artist and how did you become one?
I have always been artistically inclined. My grandmother is a painter, so my artistic inclinations were nurtured and supported from the beginning. I drew constantly as a kid. And I had (and still have) a keen interest in nature and animals so that was my primary subject matter–usually animals chasing down and eating other animals. Lots of foxes and wolves, and terrified and bloodied deer. I liked to keep it real.

Even with that set-up, I didn’t set out for a career in the arts, however. I didn’t actually know there were options for arts-based careers other than being a painter–which is weird and a little dull on my part because I had no end of access to illustrated books. But I was aware that being a painter wasn’t the easiest living, so I focused my attention on sciences in high school, intending to go to vet school or into forensic entomology. Science, death and insects were a killer combination for me at the time. But first year college found me recovering from academic burnout, and I accidentally walked past the studio arts room when I went in to pick my courses, and that proved to be irresistible. After a year of mucking around with general arts classes, I was accepted into the Graphic Design and Illustration Program at Capilano College (now IDEA at Capilano University), not even knowing what graphic design was.

picture book illustration | rough drawing & final illustration detail

Do you work full time or part time as an artist? If part-time, what do you do to support yourself?
Depends on what you define as an artist. I don’t identify as being an artist. Or at least, I’m uncomfortable with the term on some level, in relation to myself. Not to say illustration isn’t art – actually, I’m not going to open up the art vs illustration debate. But I don’t feel that doing it makes me an artist. And I don’t really think the work I’m doing qualifies yet. Also, I think it’s that the work I’ve been doing most recently is client-driven–while the decisions I make are my own, they are influenced to different extent by outside forces–so I think I’m reserving the term artist for (hopefully) when I’m able to make work that is purely driven by my own whim, and feels legitimate enough (to myself) to be defined that way. I’m fully aware that I probably contradicted my earlier statement. Also, I might change my mind about the whole thing next week, or next month, or next time we talk. I don’t actually care much about the solidity of definitions, I just go by what feels right at the time.

Identity design work-in-progress.

Short, uncomplicated answer: I support myself with design and illustration work. And I support my picture book illustration work with my design work and my more commercial illustration. I paint when I have the time (rarely). I do sell pieces sometimes, but never intentionally. I rarely, if ever, exhibit. I’d like to change the selling part. But first I need more time to make the work…and I’m working on that.

What are some of your favorite materials to work with?
I love a 3B pencil and a non-precious sketchbook. I adore paint. Watercolour and I have a love hate relationship. I go back to it constantly even though I find my inability to work well in it incredibly demoralising. When I travel, I try to do as many on location paintings as I can. And I dream of having the (financially comfortable) time to get back into a nice, big oil painting so I can putter endlessly. A have at least two series in mind I’d like to take a crack at.

Old and St Andrew's Church, Montrose | on location, Montrose, Scotland, watercolour, 7"x10"

Right now, I’m really enjoying digital work as well–though with a real connection to traditional mediums; I don’t like digital-looking digital stuff, I just don’t feel a connection to it. I’m working on a picture book that I’m colouring in Photoshop. It’s opening up all sorts of possibilities that are closed to me through the nature of certain mediums, and my inabilities to bend them to my will. And it’s taught me a lot about colour in a very short time. At the same time, it’s making me want to get back into using paint again. Even though it’s digital, there are still happy accidents. And I find that pretty delightful.

Reflection | oil on canvas, 4'x4'

Tell us a bit about the process you go through to create your work:
Rumination. Research. Procrastination. First Stab. Creative dismay. More rumination (could be mistaken for procrastination). Diving in for real. A series of creative crisis. Breakthrough. A lot hours in the studio. A lot of missed weekends and sunny days. Decisions, decisions, decisions. Conclusion. Sometimes, celebration.

Where do you find inspiration for your work, and what keeps you motivated?
There are very few things I look at without thinking about how I’d go about drawing it, or mixing that colour, where that reflected light is coming from, or trying to commit the image to memory for later use. I’m motivated by the frustrations I have with my inability to draw and paint how I want to, which is also the same thing I’ve found paralysing in the past – though, I think now that I’m older, I’m over that. I’m now totally ok with knowing I still have about 850 crappy paintings or drawings to make before I turn out something good. I’m motivated by ticking time. I feel like I’m getting to the party kind of late, and I need to catch up. I’m also motivated by knowing that this is it, this is the only thing I’m half good at, so I better put my head down and keep going. Commit.

Other than art, what are you particularly excited about right now?
I’m writing part of this from Kaua’i, so in the immediate picture, I’m pretty excited about waking up in the morning (hopefully to some dry weather) and taking my morning coffee down to the beach as I have done for the past week, to watch the humpback whales, and, if I’m lucky, see the large pod of spinner dolphins that have been feeding just off the beach near the place I’m staying. I’m also super excited to get back into the water and do some snorkelling. I’m a bit obsessed with the snorkelling – it’s been pretty poor weather here (thunder, lightening, 80km winds, torrential downpours, flash flood warnings, highway closures, road wash-outs, palm fronds falling like missiles) so it’s not super warm but I’ll stay out in the water watching fish until I’m shaking with cold. They’re just so incredibly beautiful and varied and mesmerising. Everywhere you look, there’s something different.

Anole, photographed in the National Tropical Botanical Garden, Kaua'i.

In the big picture, I’m pretty excited to see the light at the end of the tunnel of a very long project that has consumed my life for the last few years. I’m excited about getting my evenings and weekends back. Having the time to get outside in the sun and explore my city again. To have free time. Catch up with friends and family. Get active. Putter in the garden. Do a bit of travelling. Purge my closet, clean my studio. Rethink work and what I’ve been working at.

Where can people find you both online and offline:
A general collection of work is at
My book illustration is here:

Artist Interview: David Gowman

Today I present to you a most humourous interview with artist, David “Mr Fire-Man” Gowman. He’s a musician, gardener, and maker of horns, as well as a self-described class clown. I promise his words will make you laugh. Read on…

Tell us about yourself:
Today, in the third month of my 46th year, I find myself an instrument-maker engaging community with interactive entertainment by way of performances with a small orchestra dominated by hand-made wooden horns.

But that is more about what I do than who I am. Properly described, I should be seen as the archetypal class-clown determined to escape a long cycle of disappointing corporate employment by creating his own much happier, if less fiscally responsible niche.

How long have you been an artist and how did you become one?
I can think of two starting points separated by several decades. Initially, in 1970’s Kitchener, Ontario, an artist was a person who could draw or paint (or even both!). In grade three I won great accolades from my peers upon completing my Weasel Project (yes, a project about weasels) on account of two very believable illustrations (pencil and guache) of weasels. This conference of status was an impetus for me to apply myself further in the hopes of gaining more praise and social standing from my classmates, an impulse I feel to this day.

Somewhere along the line, I determined to make a career out of my art skills, and promptly sold out to the advertizing industry as an illustrator/designer/prostitute-for-hire, a ten year career that feeds the satire in my performances to this day.

My epiphany came in 1995, in a windowless cubicle, in a Fundamentalist-Christian-owned advertizing agency, in an industrial park in deep Etobicoke, where 75 of us worked mostly for a KFC account. I was using my hard-won skills to render technical drawings for the 64 page deep-fry equipment user’s manual, a task my art director sold to me as ‘a soul-sucking job from hell, but with plenty of billable hours’. That horrible job was finally impetus enough to quit, move to Vancouver and take a chance on my own, self directed work.

Do you work full time or part time as an artist? If part-time, what do you do to support yourself?
I used to be a ‘full time’ artist. My first ten years or so in Vancouver, I made ends meet by selling paintings real cheap-like out of a pizza restaurant in Gastown. But the desperation as a semi-obscure Canadian artist is no trip to the playground. Lately I have two, four-hour-a-week jobs: one cleaning my building on Sundays, and the other as the gardener for a lovely co-op near Granville Island. Both jobs pay $100 each time. Combined with the occasional caricature gig entertaining at conferences or municipal events (yes I am still at least partly a corporate whore), and workshops through community centres, my habits are being supported.

Empress wood

Sticks harvested from the Empress Tree

What are some of your favourite materials to work with?
Currently, my favourite material is wood from the Empress Tree (Paulownia tomentosa) on account of it’s habit of growing long, straight, hollow* sticks very suitable for horn making.

*mostly hollow

bill hook demo

Tell us a bit about the process you go through to create your work:
First there’s the pollarding of the Empress tree, a heavy pruning that leaves only about four feet of trunk remaining. This causes it to sprout new branches which grow very fast and often straight up. At the end of the winter, they can be harvested and cured on the porch, out of the sunlight. Once they’re dry, they can be chopped and glued into appropriate horn-shaped configurations.

Another process worth mentioning is composing music and rehearsing with my band, an enterprise I would liken to herding wet cats with a broom, only the wet cats all have opinions and never answer their e-mails.

Horn in progress


Where do you find inspiration for your work, and what keeps you motivated?
I think of my work as a voice in the wilderness crying out against corporatism and religious dogma. What keeps me motivated is the certainty that, at least here in Canada, the ecologically-minded secular socialists are losing the fight at the cost of human rights, freedoms and the future of our drinking water.

Plus, the band is getting tighter as we practice. We’ve had some really good sets, lately.

Legion of the Flying Monkeys in performance

Legion of the Flying Monkeys in performance

Is there a favourite project or piece of artwork you’ve created? Tell us about it:
Tough to pick favourites. But this is a recording from a set we played at Raw Canvas (a restaurant) with pictures from the Means of Production Garden in Mount Pleasant, wherein I am heavily involved.

Tell us about other artists who have inspired you:
I have the great fortune of knowing Ken Clarke, a master sculptor in Gastown who has played a large mentorship role with me over the years. Ken is known for large cast faces and figures he produces in series, but I know his more private stone work that is more Zen and abstract.

Other than art, what are you particularly excited about right now?
There’s a new lunch place on Cambie street called Meat & Bread selling roast pork sandwiches. It’s not easy to convince my pesco-vegetarian wife that this is something I really need. But it does have me particularly excited right about now.

What are some of the biggest challenges you feel artists face today?
In Canada an artist must overcome the inherent social standing of ‘Canadian Artist’ which is only one step removed from ‘homeless person’ or ‘pan-handler’ in the minds of the average citizen. In this milieu, a hopeful creative-type can spend far too much effort seeking to achieve legitimacy when what they really need is to find their peers and get on with the task of making art.

What is special about the arts community where you live? What’s one thing you would change?
I live in the Core Artists’ Co-op in the Downtown Eastside, Vancouver’s only actual Artists’ Co-operative. The larger community here in Gastown is very affirming and often feels like Sesame Street for its friendliness and camaraderie, despite being in the midst of rampant, street level human suffering.

If I could change one thing, I would end the war on drugs. Not very realistic I suppose but it sounds much better than telling you about the people I’d like to kick out of my co-op (the violence-threatening alcoholic, the delusional, violence-threatening homophobic, or the non-participant rich kid who illegally sublets to strangers and doesn’t submit his taxes).

Where can people find you both online and offline:

Offline: Walk down to Main and Alexander Street. One half block East, stand on the North side and yell, ‘Hey, Fire-Maaaaaaaaann!.’
That should work.

Artist Interview: Valerie Arntzen

A goal I’ve been meaning to do since the previous year was to put together a series of artist interviews for my blog. I figured it would be a great way to connect with and showcase the work of other artists. Much over-thinking and procrastination later, I drafted up questions and pinged the first interview subject, who thankfully said yes. And so an interview series was born…

I’m pleased to be kicking off this series of artist interviews with assemblage artist (and good friend), Valerie Arntzen. I hope you find her as inspiring as I do.

Valerie Arntzen

Valerie in her studio (Photo by Wendy D)

Tell us about yourself:
For starters I am female and going to be sixty this year. I love those milestone birthdays as they kind of knock on your door of memories and aspirations. You take stock of where you have been and where you are going. I have been a worker all my life from draftsperson, treeplanter to buyer in the film industry and artist. My life started in Toronto, Ontario but when I was 19 I moved to Vancouver. I am married to an artist, Arnt Arntzen who is a designer/builder of modern furniture. He makes every piece himself. We both collect things but his found objects are large. He is also my technical director when I need a problem solved. We have been together for 33 years.

How long have you been an artist and how did you become one?
I have been a self taught artist for over 20 years. My first show was in 1990 and since then I have tried to be in at least one show a year while I did my money job in theatre and film.

I like to work and use my hands and head. My mother says I was always working on at least two things at the same time. As a kid I received a brownie camera (which I still have) as an Xmas present and took photos and created photo albums. I still carry a camera and take a lot of photos which I often use in my pieces. I started my art career as a painter of found objects in which I would do these crazy patterns all over vases, furniture and other objects.

I am now an assemblage artist. Assemblage is an artistic process in which a three-dimensional artistic composition is made from putting together found objects.

Do you work full time or part time as an artist? If part-time, what do you do to support yourself?
Retirement from my money job happened about 8 years ago and I have been a full time artist since then. I was also a founding director of the Eastside Culture Crawl and the executive director for 11 years. Retirement from that position happened 2 years ago. The amount of money I have been earning from my art practice has been going up every year. I would not have been able to support myself on those earnings in the past but now my studio is paid for and my husband works full time in his art practice and is very successful.

Record History by Valerie Arntzen

Record History detail

Record History (detail) by Valerie Arntzen

What are some of your favorite materials to work with?
I LOVE JUNK! Being an assemblage artist is a fun job. I get to collect, re-use, recycle and give new life to discarded objects, wood and metal. The found objects I collect can vary from a souvenir Statue of Liberty from New York to a complete set of sun dried animal vertebrae found on the beach in Mexico. I collect when I am out for a walk or traveling different parts of the world.

Tell us a bit about the process you go through to create your work:
I almost always have my camera with me. I use my photos in lots of different ways: in my assemblages, cover them with bees wax, collage them or make books. My files of photographs are categorized under themes such as fences, rust, texture, chairs.

My studio is a visual feast piled high with labeled boxes and drawers stuffed chock o’ block on shelves holding my collections of junk and treasures. Getting out my treasures and creating an assemblage in a favorite box takes me back to a memory of a special trip, person or event. I like to work in series mostly due to the fact that I collect in multiples but I also find my thought process needs more than one piece to be complete. One assemblage piece seems to complete the other.

Shamans Closet

Shamans Closet by Valerie Arntzen

Shamans Closet

Shamans Closet (detail) by Valerie Arntzen

Where do you find inspiration for your work, and what keeps you motivated?
My travels definitely inspire me. I collect stories, treasures and photos from my trips. I can start a piece with a found object, box or photo and then it just develops from there. I think I have about 10 years of assemblages worth of stuff in my studio. If I think I have artist block I try to challenge and inspire myself by taking a class, collaborating with another artist, attending art shows, artist talks or going through my library of art books. My biggest motivation at the moment is moving to Amsterdam later this year for six months. I have a show in October there and will be making the art locally as well.

Is there a favorite project or piece of artwork you’ve created? Tell us about it:
One of my favourite pieces I have made is called “Bullets to Buddhas”. It started with a printer spacer box that a friend gave me from his old building in North Vancouver. The spacer box was used to store pieces of wood that you would put between the laid out type (yes one letter at a time!) to create space around each article. I filled the box with bullets I had made by a props person in the film industry and small metal Buddhas I bought at a temple supply store. On the back I carved text from the bible Isaiah 2:4 that talks about turning your swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks. My thoughts behind the piece, is that thousands of years later we are still using weapons (bullets) and they should be turned into something peaceful (metal Buddhas). Peace not War!

Bullets to Buddha

Bullets to Buddha by Valerie Arntzen

Bullets to Buddha detail

Bullets to Buddha (detail) by Val Arntzen

Tell us about other artists who have inspired you:
I look at Joseph Cornell‘s work a lot. He was an American self taught artist and sculptor, one of the pioneers and most celebrated exponents of assemblage. I love Frida Khalo‘s story and work…against all odds and lots of pain she stayed true to herself as an artist.

Artists that are alive and I admire, show with and talk with are Ken Gerberick (Vancouver) and Bill Thomson (Burnaby). They are both assemblage artists and they both paint as well.

Other than art, what are you particularly excited about right now?
I guess my trip to Europe is what I am most excited about as it won’t all be about art. My husband and I will be learning so much about living in another culture as we usually only travel to places, and not spend so much time there. There will be lots of new adventures and new people in our lives.

What are some of the biggest challenges you feel artists face today?
I am one of the lucky ones who has a studio that I own. Studio space is disappearing or getting too expensive. It is affecting all types of artists from every medium. For those who go the gallery route we are also losing our galleries as they close up for various reasons.

What is special about the arts community where you live? What’s one thing you would change?
I live in a part of Vancouver that has always housed and supported artists. Translation: rent was cheap and places are in the area of mixed use – industrial and residential. Our community supports each other by collaborating, sharing, coming to each others shows. The artists here give back to our community whether it is through teaching children, helping raise money for a project or just generally making our neighbourhood beautiful with their art.

Our biggest hurdle is rentals that are reasonable whether it is a studio, home or live/work studio. As people purchase and renovate and save the old houses the extra space becomes too expensive for artists to rent. We are also getting too many cars in this neighbourhood as more people move here.

Where can people find you both online and offline:
I have an open studio date on the First Saturday of the month. The next ones are February 4th and March 3rd.

Contact: 604-817-9130 or