Sunday, 25 November 2012

My Art for the Silent Auction

I was asked by the amazing and enthusiastic team organising this fund raising event, to create some work of art for the silent auction. As normal, with our philosophy of never saying “no”, I agreed, “No problem!”

The timing of the question did not allow time for a ceramic sculpture to be created, so I was thinking about doing a charcoal sketch, or on the outside, possibly a painting.

Also, it was my desire to create something with meaning. Something I could possibly include in my art show, which, to put it bluntly, tells the story of my coping methods in dealing with the loss of our daughter to murder.

So, I needed inspiration, something to launch my brain into an idea, an idea that would be sustainable. Hopefully more than a “one shot wonder” kind of work. I began very inartistically or shall I say, very left brain. I began visiting retail locations that were selling art, mass produced works to the public. Not to replicate something but to see what the mass market has discovered sells, shall we say. It was interesting, but unsatisfying. I yearned for something more. I continued driving, but now without a destination wondering where to go next. Suddenly, I realised I was travelling in the neighbourhood of an Indigo bookstore. I remembered they had an interesting art section, one display being open art books of all kinds spread out on a table for customers to simply page through. I had been there before and turned my vehicle in that direction.

The display was there just as I remembered. It was a joy to just relax and let the works of art wash over me. Suddenly, I ran across a series of four paintings, called “The Four Seasons” by C.Y. Twombly. It wasn’t so much the works but the fact he’d used words, words I could not read or decipher but they were words. I looked for the description and discovered he was quoting bits of poetry relating to the season he was depicting. For example, for the painting on spring it was selections of poetry on the subject of spring. The reason I could not read it was because it was in Italian!

I had a pen but no paper. Finding a magazine order card someone had dropped on the floor I began writing ideas. David had written poems, poetry, that turned into songs. They were inspired by the various events and experiences in his whole life. What if I, instead of seasons, I represented the various events in a painting with bits of the corresponding poetry (Psalms) written in words on the painting? Wow! My heart and mind were both pounding! A sales clerk asked if I’d received their coupon...I heard nothing. I looked at her, and pretended to listen. She could have been speaking Italian, I had not the foggiest idea what she was talking about. But, I had been taught that the loving thing is to “pretend” to listen and understand. She would never understand my present mental state of excitement, I’m sure she misread my large excited glistening eyes as total agreement, understanding and who knows what else. When she finally gestured by her body language that she wanted me to take one, I did so with great relief and she, thankfully left me to continue in my own new world of excitement and expectation.

It wasn’t until I’d written down some ideas all over that small card that I was able to slowly make my way out of the art department and the store. This card is laying beside me here as I write.

Below, is my first rough of an idea. It has to do with a cave in a desert location, where David was hiding from King Saul and his 3000 hired men. It was during this time that many discontented, angry, frustrated tough guys began joining him in this hideout. It was difficult for out of these he molded his future leaders for when he himself became king. Below are some bits of Psalms 57, a song he wrote expressing the various emotions he felt during that time of his life.

And now, I need to chose my colour pallet and get painting.

These are the words you see on the sketch.

“Your are my refuge, I call upon you...My heart is steadfast...Let your glory shine.”
Psalm 57

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Candace House & The Locket

“Friends Forever”

Photo by Heidi Friesen

Our daughter Candace, who disappeared on November 30 of 1984, was found murdered the following January in a brickyard shed near our house. She was wearing a special locket.

She was wearing a very special locket. She had made a friend while we lived in North Battleford, SK. When we as a family moved to Winnipeg in 1980 she came wearing a locket from the friend she’d parted from. During these four years in Winnipeg she always wore this locket.  What I mean is she never took it off! It became tarnished and old looking. The chain broke and was repaired. My wife at times would suggest another piece of jewelry as this one was looking pretty shabby, but Candace resisted, no “refused” to part with it.

Candace was a “people person” and loved her friends dearly.

This is an important foundation on which we envision the basic characteristic of “Candace House.” That all victims of crime who come for rest, respite, help, nurture will feel like they have found a “friend”. It is in crises like that of a loss and a trial, that victims especially need a friend. And not just for a while, but for life. That the connection and experience with the Candace House will always be a warm  memory like that locket, a good memory that lasts forever.

We also want to let you know that all who support Candace House in any way are certainly considered friends. We are so delighted you have come into our lives in this important way.

This November 30th is the “Walk for Candace House Fundraiser” and we would like to invite you to participate in any way you can or wish. It will be a fun community event for all ages. It will be a place to meet friends and make new ones. Wilma and I will be there and hope to meet you, our friends, walking for this exciting project.

This will take place at the Wildewood Club, 761 North Drive, Winnipeg MB. Pledge forms are available at or email

There will also be vender's there selling arts and craft items for the Christmas season. If you are one of these gifted people you are welcome to come and set up a table. Call Bernie at 204-255-2757

Wilma and I would like to thank you in advance, our friends. Many of you have supported us in many and various important ways, and now we invite you to support victims of the future. On behalf of all victims I would like you to know that you are our friends and are very special to us.

“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
Colossians 3:14

Sunday, 18 November 2012

A “Work in Progress”

Yesterday I mentioned my new challenge. To do something that will be a challenge for me. That is, talk about myself and to represent myself and my work to art Galleries out there. This is not my comfort zone so, if you don’t mind I’m going to take a chance and begin working on my “Artist Statement” below.  

Artist's Statement November, 2012
Sitting through the 2010 preliminary hearing and the 2011 trial, 23 years after the loss my daughter, brought out a lot of emotions and feelings that just needed to be expressed. As I sat in the gallery listening I had to do something and so I brought my sketchbook which became not only a way to express pent up feelings but a distraction during some very difficult days and moments.

It so happened that I moved nto my art studio during this time, which to my surprise released a sort of frenetic burst of creative energy and inspiration. Personally, I believe it was therapeutic.

My artistic expression is mostly through the medium of ceramic sculpture. The subject matter includes and ranges from mythical, symbolic, spiritual and religious pieces expressing the twists and turns of a hurting and battered father. The surface treatments are monochrome in color and are painted in acrylics or similar mediums. In addition, the body of work also includes trial sketches, charcoal drawings and paintings.

During the different showings I’ve been privileged to have, I have noted that the work is both emotional and thought provoking. The show triggers memories and events in the lives of viewers in a very vivid way. It is my hope that my journey through the haze of tragedy will confirm to viewers that we are not alone and that we have amazing resilience within ourselves, and some important resources available, not only to make do, but to survive and to move on.

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”
Psalm 34:18
The “Walk with Us for the Candace House Fundraiser”
will take place November 30th, 2012
4:00pm – 8;00pm at the Wildewood Club,
761 North Drive, Winnipeg MB
for more information call:
The well known story of the good Samaritan describes how many ignored the plight of a crime victim, except for one person, who took the victim to a place of safety and healing. Candace House is envisioned as the 21st century version of this inn – a safe, comfortable, friendly home where victims can connect with others who are on a journey toward healing, and who have stopped at this oasis for timely information, nourishment, and encouragement along the way.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

It’s Just Not Pretty Enough!

Slowly the “chair” is progressing...

 It’s that time of year again. Have you done your Christmas Shopping?

Last night we went to an art show and sale in the N. Kildonan area of the city. A friend of ours is a painter and as a member of this art club, had her work on display. It was so fun to walk the isles admiring the many paintings for sale. The other enjoyable part was meeting people, several friends and acquaintances we had not run across for years. It was a delightful evening.

It is the time of year when everyone is putting their wares up for sale to take advantage of the Christmas shopper looking for gifts. At Clifton Studios, where I have my studio, we have an open house scheduled for November 24 & 25, when we as artists will be selling our ceramic creations. Not only can guests buy Christmas gifts but also wonder through the area, meeting artists in their studios where they work. It is a fun time, meeting friends who come every year and many new folks checking the place out.

 As we walked through the display, my mind was going, “Should I become a member of this club? After all, then I could put some of my stuff up for sale.”

Then, I realised that my stuff, to put it bluntly, is not “pretty enough!” I find it hard to imagine one of my sculptures under someone’s Christmas tree! My work is different, it’s for a gallery and they work well as a unit, they tell a story. The Christmas shopper is looking for something different. Something fashionable, glitzy, popular, something social media ish, and so on.

OK, where am I going with this? I have to realise, I have a different season and a different place for my creative work. My creations depict and describe a journey. They have a message, a message hopefully of the reality of the hardships and tragedies of the human condition, and that to overcoming such tragedies is in the realm of possibility. It’s a message for after Christmas. For once the gifts have been given, and the house is in a shambles and everyone has left, then once again the reality of life can hit really hard. That’s where my work comes into play.

My challenge, is not only to continue to create more pieces but to develop a means of communicating this to art galleries in Canada and beyond. Thank goodness, the art gallery is a place where “pretty” is not always a necessity.

“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
2 Cor. 9:7

Here’s how our grandson came to our house the other day.
Now, he’s “pretty”, excuse me, I mean “handsome”.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Creativity Fatigue.

It’s the long weekend! Add to that some weather warnings about snow storms and it has been no problem just staying inside. This Saturday,(yesterday) I put on my housecoat in the morning, made a pot of coffee and raided the fridge all day. It was totally a “housecoat day”! Wow. But, boy is it hard to try to “vacation” at home. You see all that work one could do and feel so guilty.

I have finally come to realise and admitted to myself that I am tired. I think I have something like “creative artistic fatigue.” I have been working very steadily at my art. I have certainly slowed down from my early frenzy of creativity but I can now tell I’m tired.

Creativity involves every aspect of one’s life and person. Your emotions, mind, creativity, imagination, mental playfulness, and the physical body are all involved. If one or two or more of these is stunted or hindered your creativity will suffer and the work becomes sub par. I have already learned to take breaks, especially if I’m doing more intense detailed work, 20 or so minutes at a time is quite enough. Then I go for a walk and get some fresh air, get a coffee, or just a change like looking out the window will do wonders. Otherwise the work begins to suffer. But this is different.

Lots of artists have day jobs and work at their art by night. If the day has been tiring often the art session is forgotten in favour of crashing in front of the TV. Even though I don’t have a 9-5 kind of job, I do also have my work encroaching on my art. My life is full and not boring and I appreciate that, but is fairly busy. Let me summarise. I have a normal home life with all the work and chores that it entails. I have a family, wife, two kids and their families and one 6 week old grandchild. It means that there is a family social life, usually of a weekly nature. All fantastic. I have a church that is important to me. I’m involved in the church leadership team, I lead a weekly 6am men’s group and I’m part of the church men’s leadership team. I’m also part of a leadership group leading a young adult life group once a week. Plus of course an active social life with friends.

Then there’s the business and the usual stuff managing that. Accounting, staff issues, scheduling work, deadlines, quality control, quotations, dealing with clients and so on.

What else? Oh yes if course, there is also my art. There’s the original gestation of ideas for pieces that should or needs to happen. This means stuff like a playful imagination, originality, soul searching, planning pieces, emotional involvement, creating pieces, problem solving, firing, finishing, cleaning and maintaining the studio, doing shows as they come up, packing, setting up, the showing itself, tearing down. Studio open houses, blogs. Presently preparing a resume/proposal to be sent to art galleries for potential showings in the future. Researching what art galleries would be open to my kind of show plus just sending the material out shotgun approach. One time talks and presentations. Consignments, art for the Candace House Fundraiser. Promotions, etc. etc.

I’m also just realising that there are several important things in my business that have piled up over the past few months and I’ve been kind of putting them off. You know, things that are not your favourite things to do. Like, the recalculation of a clients cleaning fees is one of these. Something that has to be done, but your not sure how the customer will respond! Here some push back can be expected and some negotiation will need to take place I’m sure. So I need to take the time to get my ducks in a row for that kind of thing. 

But it is things like this that press on one’s mind and it becomes more difficult to focus. Your not really aware but in the background your mind is chewing on these issues and you begin to tire. Pressure begins to rise as you know this needs to be addressed, and so it begins encroaching on and affecting the free flow of the creative juices one needs.

I think this coming week I will spend some time on my business and get rid of the back log that is interfering with my piece of mind. Don’t be surprised if next week I won’t have much to report regarding my artistic adventures.

So, that sounds like a great plan. Meanwhile, I will use this long weekend to get some much needed rest so that in the end my work will continue to be up to par.

Now, I need a glass of wine.

“Then the person in charge called the groom to one side. He said to him, “Everyone (else) brings out the best wine first, then brings out the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink. But you have saved the best until now.”
John 2:10

Saturday, 10 November 2012

My Love-Hate relationship with P S.

Having solved the problems...
here are the first of the spikes on the
“knife-like” crest of the back of the throne.

I know what you’re thinking, “Hey Cliff you missed a letter there in your title for this blog, instead of ‘P S’ I’m sure you meant ‘PMS’! But then maybe not, I know, it means ‘postal service’, everyone would understand that one.......mmmmmm!”

I know there are several options for what that might stand for, “Public Service”, “People Skills”, or.... and so on.

Here is the “hate it” part. "PS" is something I cannot get away from. It literally stalks me, showing up a lot of times in the course of my life, but almost always at the most inopportune times. Let me give you a poor example. It’s like when I’m working outside on my yard, concentrating on what I’m doing, turn around and there’s my neighbour, standing behind me with that mischievous grin on his face! Scares the daylights out of me every time! When I ask him how long he’s been there he never tells the truth! Other than that “one little thing” he’s a fantastic neighbour. That’s it, the very reality of life makes it part of my existence, I know it and have to resort to using it a lot.

The thing is that when this ‘P S’ is necessary, I’m frustrated and wishing it and all it stands for would just go away. But for me to go forward I have to engage with ‘it’.  There’s no getting around it. This week I tried to ignore it by doing other things for a while. But I knew, I’d have to engage with it sometime.

The other frustrating thing I hate about PS is that to engage with it means work. “It” makes you think. You may even have to do research, ask questions, make phone calls and so on.

Now the “love” part. Once I engage with PS and get into doing the work, I usually begin to feel better. First of all you feel better because you are not ignoring it but working at it. Secondly, hope for results arise and that is always exciting. And that is the thing about PS. What I do love about it is you are learning. You are beginning to see possibilities for moving ahead. Then, there is the part where the victory is won. The issues are resolved and you move ahead. You learned something. You faced the giant, overcame the problem and are back on track. That is what is good about dealing with PS.

“Ok Cliff, tell me already, what in the world is PS?” You have probably guessed, it is “problem solving”.

Once I finished the back of the chair I was stumped. How do I do those spikes at the top of the back? I know it sounds crazy. It seems to be such a simple problem. I did some other work on another project and left the chair alone for a while, stewing on the problem of the spikes. Do I do them first or last, work for the top or the bottom? How do I relate them to the front and the back of the chair? Especially with the thickness of the clay on the lip at the top of the back.

Also, I think I was tired, problem solving challenged. Then, I decided to start at the top. Once the clay was in my hands, solutions began to simply materialise as I went along. I realised very quickly that I needed to make two identical spikes, one for the front and one for the back. They would come up the back join at the top becoming one, supporting themselves as they extended above the top of the back. Also, it became clear I needed to cut the wide top lip  bringing it to a knife-like edge so the two spikes could joint smoothly and become one beyond the top. It all worked great, and the spikes began to materialise one after another.
Like someone somewhere has probably said, “The annoying necessity of problem solving is an opportunity for the joy and anticipation of new and exciting  achievements.”

“God is our place of safety...He is always there to help us in times of trouble.” 
Psalms 46:1 

Cutting the top of the thrones back 
to a knife-like edge.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

My Chair has it’s “Back-Up”.

This morning my alarm went off at the correct time. Six am. I was sitting up on the side of my bed going through my body checklist to see if all systems were working when I became aware of some pillow talk, “did you remember the time change?”  Wow. Good to be reminded of that at such a critical moment! It was going to be a good day!

Here I am with my coffee, sitting in my living room, worship music playing quietly, my neighbours houses dark, yet I’m not feeling alone. It’s a sacred moment as I consider you all, my readers (both of you!  J) and wonder what “my ever present guide” will prompt me to write this morning.

It seems our chairs have a great affect on us. We all spend a lot of time in chairs. Hard, soft, couches, vehicles, a huge percentage of our time is spent in a chair. For everything we do, there seems to be a different sitting device. When at leisure, like watching a football game like as I did yesterday, I reclined on a couch. Now, I’m at my computer and I’m sitting on a hard chair. At the office we sit in hard chairs or ergonomically designed computer chairs. As a boss we have a cushy soft chair. All of these chairs are chosen for the specific usage and as we think of each kind of chair, we think of all these different activities. These chairs all bring to mind different feelings, happiness, comfort, anger (like the chair at a job I don’t like!) frustration and so on.

Some chairs actually hurt us and often we don’t realise it. Probably a lot of our chairs do that. I checked a website called “” and discovered that 80% of Americans have back pain due to the chairs they use as they work in their offices. That’s a large percentage of the population! I’d say that would affect how you feel about that job, or that environment because every day you come home with your back hurting in some way! That to me is very enlightening. That means there are a lot of cranky people coming home for supper every day! No wonder we have “road rage” during rush hour!

Note to self: do not call anyone between 4:30 – 6:30pm, no matter what the reason. It will be way more amiable after the 80% of us have had a little time to give our painful backs a rest!

As you can see, the chair I'm replicating has it’s back up! This is an angry chair! This is not an ergonomically correct chair and the king who designed it was not thinking of “comfort”! This is a chair of intimidation. The purpose of this chair is to bring fear to all, friend or foe. “Do not mess with me” is the message here.

Many “experts” are paid good money to make sure our chairs make us comfortable. Every company wants productivity, so it becomes of prime importance. This king put a lot of thought into making a chair of discomfort for the purpose of intimidation and striking fear into the heart of every person in his life. What he did not know or sadly even care about was that the chair was also affecting him. First, it was an expression of his own angry heart. Secondly, it was also ergonomically wrong for him and so brought pain into his personal life. Can you imagine sitting on those sword hilts all day? That would mess with your attitude for sure, only adding to the bad attitude and anger he already had in the first place!

If I had to make a chair expressing my heart and life what kind of a chair would it be?

Can you imagine this king, who’d been sitting on knives all day, during rush hour? I can just imagine him in his weapon bristling chariot, weaving through the traffic of terrified pedestrians, riders, wagons and chariots. It would probably cost you your life it you did not see him coming and get out of the way!

This would not be “road rage” it would be murder!

“Put your sword back in it’s place, “Jesus said to him. “all who use the sword will die by the sword.”
Matthew 26:52. 

Saturday, 3 November 2012

How's Your Lower Back?

What a week it’s been!

We got back from our trip to Minneapolis and hit the week hard. Since it’s the last week of the month my business took some extra time so my time in the studio was at a minimum.

Still it is surprising what one can accomplish when the plan ahead is clear and one is focused. Last weekend I did described a plan for how the back of the “Throne of Swords” would have to be done. Originally, As you know I had envisioned a single sheet of clay making up the back of this throne. It had become obvious that would not do, as the size of the chair demanded a back too large for the strength of one sheet. So let us begin with the lower back! 

Since I had already measured and cut the sheets needed for this next step last week, I simply needed to do the assembling of the pieces. Before we left for Minneapolis I had to run back to the studio as I’d left these clay pieces in a relatively unwrapped state so they would dry to a leather hard state and be ready for assembly on the next day, Saturday. Well, now with the trip we would be gone till Monday, two extra days of drying time would result in the pieces becoming too dry, so I re-wrapped them much tighter in light of that new reality.

As you can see in the top photo, I began by adding the lower back, inner support pieces. You can see I made those round openings in the back panel of the chair and also in the middle of the support pieces. This is to facilitate the movement of heated air through the inner parts of the hollow back. We cannot have any air locks anywhere. Also, this will allow the temperature to even out throughout the whole chair easily during the firing process. You might be wondering about the strange material on these supports, it’s wet paper towelling. This is simply to keep them from drying further as I work and to actually soften the edges so the connection with the next piece will be a good one. Damp pieces of paper towelling is my “go to” way of keeping my pieces at the correct moisture levels as it takes time working on large pieces like this. The drying continues and one has to control it at all times.

After this I prepared the next piece, a large slab of clay that would now become the new back of the chair, resting against these supports. I scored every edge, added the “cement”, (wet clay) then carrying the clay slap on the board it had been drying on, simply placed it in the upright position against the bottom and let it gently lean onto these supports. Since it was leather hard it stood on it’s own which made it easy to simply apply pressure on the contact points with these supports for a good bond. You can see the results on the photos to the right. 

Many people have been asking me, “How long did it take to do this sculpture?” I have had a real problem answering that as the work is so varied in what is involved. So, for the first time I am actually logging my hours on a project. What you see done here took 2.5 hours. So, in total I have now logged exactly 50 hours on this project! And I still have the upper back to do plus the king who will be sitting on this chair! Wow. It’s going to be a few hours!

Tomorrow, we tackle the upper part of the back of the chair. How will I do this? mmmmm?

“If anyone remains joined to me, and I to him, he will bear a lot of fruit...”
John 15:5