Category Archives: Art Projects- Current

Rice Paper Birds

Sometimes a new piece of paper can suggest a new direction, or a new way of seeing things. Such is the case with a gift of the most delicate pale blue translucent paper my daughter Laurel brought me from Toronto. For a while I just admired it hanging in the window with other strips of translucent paper being hung over it for effect. Eventually, two new pieces took shape.

I love flocks of rice paper birds. Playing with such sheer papers encouraged me to focus more on the abstract shapes of birds and the spaces between them (and less on the individual birds).

The birds don’t alter space.
They reveal it. The sky
never fills with any
leftover flying. They leave
nothing to trace. It is our own
astonishment collects
in chill air. Be glad

(Li-Young Lee ‘Praise Them’)

Dolores and Alma

Dolores, left and Alma, right with "Four Directions"

Dolores, left and Alma, right with “Four Directions”

I want to share this simple, sweet story.

One of things I like about hosting my own art show is that I witness when a person falls in love with a piece of art. On the second day of my show, my friend Alma told me that she loved  a watercolour painting called “Four Directions” and that maybe she could afford  to buy it in September. This was a painting I had begun for a specific project. Partway through painting this piece I learned that my art was not what the client had in mind. Funny thing, this piece had moved right into me, stirred me up  and I needed to finish it for myself – project or no project. I couldn’t not finish it! I was so delighted that it touched Alma.

I woke up the next morning with one thought. It seemed to me that the painting should be Alma’s. When I arrived at the show, I put a “sold” marker on it.

Enter my friend Dolores. When Dolores first saw “Four Directions”, her hand went to her heart and she said, ” I want to buy this painting. I just love it.” I told her about Alma.fullsizeoutput_1a4a

I pondered this the next few days and phoned Dolores with a proposition to loan her the painting for four months until Alma’s birthday, at which time I would offer it to Alma.

I intended to pick it up from Dolores and deliver to Alma, as a surprise. Then I had a better idea. These two women had at least two things in common, so I asked Alma to come and meet my friend Dolores, which she did. She didn’t even ask why!

It was the sweetest get together. These two elders have each meant so much to me, as friends and as teachers. Alma is also my relative now, by the sweet virtue of my daughter and her grandson falling in love. Alma was the presiding elder at the first women’s sweats I ever attended. We have known each other for many years. Alma offers her wisdom and knowledge, her love for her native Cree language and the teaching embedded in it to many people of all ages and all nations. Alma’s voice soothes and gentles  me.  My friend Dolores epitomizes hospitality, the generous heart. I can talk to her about almost anything. Her hospitality comes as naturally as breath. She is a listener. I always leave her home feeling nurtured and treasured, not to mention well-fed. To sit in Dolores’s welcoming home, enjoying cookies and tea while these two wonderful women got to know each other was more dear than I can say.


Dolores, Alma, Sue with Cherie Westmoreland photo in the background

Dolores gave Alma homemade socks. We shared stories. We took a selfie! Alma carefully carried away her painting wrapped in the garbage bag Dolores had given her. The gratitude and warmth I felt for these moments and the gifts of these two women in my life expanded into the next day, and the next, and today as well.

This post is dedicated to my own mum, Alice Sylvia Frith Bland, who died 20 years ago on Hallowe’en. I feel her presence and love often. I am grateful to all the mother figures who have blessed my life, and who continue to bless it. Thank you. Hiy Hiy.




An order for something, especially a work of art, to be produced specially:
Mozart at last received a commission to write an opera

My Definition:

A mission which is shared by 2 or more people, with one being the co-creator or maker and the others having creative imput. Sue at last received a commission to create a rice paper panel in consultation with those who commissioned it.

The mission:

To create a beautiful rice paper plexiglass panel for a bathroom window that would serve as a kind of “curtain” or blind so that people outdoors could not see in to the bathroom.

How we worked together:

We knew two things at the beginning – the size of the window (which suggested the size of the plexiglass panel) and that we wanted colourful rice paper birds to be a part of it. Because the window looks out to trees (bare branches in winter), we decided to create branches for the birds. The branches would be bare in winter while in spring they would be enlivened with the green foliage that could be seen through the clear parts of the plexiglass.

My Part:


Creating a template for the branches

Tracing the template on to Brown Silk Ashiro Paper

Tracing the template on to Brown Silk Ashiro Paper

Trying the branches in the window

Trying the branches in the window

Trying simpler branches

Trying  a simpler branch

Rejecting the simpler branch

Rejecting the simpler branch


I taped the branch with a simple arrangement of birds to the cottage

I taped the branch with a simple arrangement of birds on the plexiglass. Here it is in its “destination window”.

Time to Consult:

I taped the branch and some birds to the plexiglass and brought a whole handful of extra rice paper birds. The couple I was working wanted more birds, especially at the bottom, and especially more birds with red on them to pick up the colour of the bathroom walls. We also hit a problem: you could see through the panel into the bathroom. We hoped that more birds clustered at the bottom would help solve this problem.

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I created more red birds and sent them mock ups of different arrangements of birds on the tree

I created more red birds and sent them mock ups of different arrangements of birds on the tree. This is #3.

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This is # 6, the version the couple chose.

The next part is the finnicky part. The branches and the birds need to be affixed to the plexiglass. I do this using “zots” – tiny glue spots. The design of the branches that overlaps with the bird is cut out so that the overall design is not too intricate and each birds colour shows well. A few birds, such as the red one, on the bottom left, are left with the branches criss crossing their colour. It takes a couple of hours  and a lot of patience for this stage.

Attaching the birds and branches to the plexi glass

Attaching the birds and branches to the plexi glass

Then the 2 panels of plexiglass are screwed together, fishing line is attached to the top screws so that the piece can be hung and it is ready for delivery. Because plexiglass panels shift in different lights and through different seasons, they need be lived with for a while to be truly appreciated.

Some of the challenges in creating rice paper collages in plexi glass are:

  • Can the two pieces of plexi glass be sealed so that there is no condensation in a bathroom? Someone has suggested using acetone and I am going to try this.
  • A plexi panel is like a see through shirt- not everything is hidden. I have used rice paper backgrounds but then you lose the beauty of seeing what is really beyond the window.We did cluster birds at the bottom, but this did not work as well as we had hoped.
  • Plexiglass is great stuff but it picks up dust and tiny bits of whatever – how to reduce its static qualities?

Each new art piece is an adventure for me. I welcome any knowledge or insights. To see more panels, check out




To Barter

exchange (goods or services) for other goods or services without using money.
“he often bartered a meal for drawings”
synonyms: trade, swap, exchange, sell
“they bartered grain for salt”

Barter #1- IT help for a watercolour

Some time ago, I panicked when I could not get into the “dashboard” (where I make changes, add and delete things) of my website. I tried to enter multiple times with the predictable result  that I was locked out. I had that sick feeling when we realize we know very little about something we depend on for so very much. My trouble shooting daughter could not help me out this time.

I put out a plea out on Facebook, and met Ruth, the daughter of a friend who was willing to help. I stopped in late at night, after her long work day.  When it seemed to be a more complicated problem than I thought, I left the computer with her for a sleep over. Alas, just at the edge of the city, Ruth and her husband called – they had solved the problem and I drove back. I could not have been more relieved or grateful. It was not just that they had helped me out, it was they did it with such good grace and good humour, and never showed for an instant that they would rather be doing someting else.

I offered them eggs, honey, money or art. Ruth asked for a watercolour of blue eyed grass. Blue eyed grass grows both in my birth home in Ontario as well as here in Saskatchewan. A small deep blue flower with a yellow centre, it often takes my breath away when I see it in a thatch of grass. It is a surprise, it has the power to get you to stop and bend down and look at it really closely, it is diminutive and unassuming. I have often thought of painting it but didn’t feel I have the mastery to catch its essence.

20151215_101415Usually I plunk myself down beside the flower and like to spend time with it before painting it but of course, it is winter and I cannot. I had a couple of pleasurable times exploring blue eyed grass with my watercolours. I never came close to expressing what I feel about this small wildflower, but I loved trying, and in the trying getting to know it better. I hope to spend more time with it next summer, perhaps on the coulee hills.

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Barter #2 – Children’s Book for Dance Lessons

When Donna asked me if I would be willing to work on a book for her grandson, I said, yes, but not for a fee, for a barter. I had a sense that while I wanted to give this a try, it would take quite a few hours and that a barter made way more sense than money. Donna had the story idea, and in fact had written it down and she and other family members had lots of photos.  It ended up being a combination of a scrapbook and a children’s story focused on one little boy and his nana who have a great and memorable adventure together. The gift in this exchange for me (not unlike the barter above) was how much fun and delight I had putting this together, and how sweet it was to celebrate the loving bond of a little guy and his Nana.

When Donna came to pick up the completed book, she asked what I would like in exchange. She is a very talented person, so I rhymed off “Baking orpickled eggs or started plants in spring or….I have this kind of crazy idea.” “What?” she asked. “Old time dancing lessons. Shane is a wonderful dancer and I am not, but I would love to learn.” That final suggestion made her eyes twinkle, so in spring, when her husband  is off seeding, we are going to push back the furniture in her living room and try a polka or two in her living room!

Because these two barters happened at the same time, I am struck by how much about them is pure gift. In the first case, there is the gift of the help I needed, of the generosity of spirit with which it was offered as well as giving me the chance to paint a flower I might otherwise not have tried. In the second case, it was a gift to be reminded of how I love to work on a project, especially a children’s book. There is the anticipated gift of dance lessons, and of dancing with Shane. On the other side of this equation, Ruth and Donna also both gave and received a gift.

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Image 6

“SongLines”, Paper collage and watercolour on watercolour paper, 10″ x 22″

During “Immersed in Nature: A Retreat at Valley View Farm“, a weekend hosted by my friend Debra and I in late August, we considered and explored line, shape and colour. The lines, shapes and colours  that called to us as we explored the natural world.

Much of my preparation for this weekend took place at Pheasant Creek Coulee, a few miles south of our farm. As I sit by the large stone I have come to know as “Grandfather Rock”, I am drawn by the shape of the creek, by the way that it winds and weaves. Again and again, I have drawn or painted or sketched  the creek as it sings and curls its way through the coulee and the hills in which it resides.


"Pheasant Creek Coulee"

“Pheasant Creek Coulee”










During our retreat, I began to play with the shape of the creek, starting with watercolours and eventually adding metallic papers – candy and chocolate wrappers, cigarette foils, origami paper. And there my own simple exploration of line, shape and colour sat for several weeks. I kept thinking “song line”…. it seemed the curves and rhythms of the creek were both outside me and singing deep within my body.

Collage- shape, line

Collage- shape, line, colour

I knew that I wanted the feeling of hills around the creek but not necessarily something representational. I began to play with shapes and contours, with different shades of rusts, browns, coppers, gold…..I wanted to capture the feel of the place, the movement of the hills, the way that this place sings within me, how it feels like  treasure.

Image 6 Image 7Once finished, I took this piece to the place that inspired it to photograph it. Seeing it in the coulee, amidst the rust of the little bluestem grasses, the gold of the aspen leaves, the shadows of the hawthorn and birch seemed somehow right, plus felt incredibly goofy (in a good way) and was just a lot of fun.
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Mornings at the Coulee

I have been thinking back to Julys of years past, a tumble of days at the beach, bonfires at night, gardening, packing and unpacking from camping trips and so much else. Sometimes I would manage just one trip down to the coulee to see the amazing July wildflowers and I would dream of the day that I could spend much more time there in the company of the flowers, and get to know them better.

Unbelievable, but that time has come! With an (almost) empty nest and no faraway trips planned, I have been slipping down to Pheasant Creek Coulee at 6 or 6:30 many mornings and staying for a few hours until the sun gets too hot. I bring a thermos of ginger tea, a knapsack of watercolour supplies, some sage to start with a smudge and not much else. When I am done, I pick wild Saskatoons from the bushes at the top of the hills. It is my version of paradise.

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Prairie Coneflowers

Prairie Coneflowers

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Raising the Roof

IMG_2164My summer plan was to stop creating collages for a while, and focus a little more on watercolour painting. Then, this beautiful blue lining from an envelope Jessie received  with a grad card captured my heart. The paper is silky, the geometric patterns simple, the different blues thrill me. The envelope lining is almost perfect – just a slight tear. It beckons me from my work table every time I pass. It wants to be a house. So, I put the watercolours aside and pull out my scissors.

envelope lining - to die for

envelope lining – to die for

envelope lining becomes a house

envelope lining becomes a house

trying different background papers

trying different background papers



I try the house with the roof on and it doesn’t look right. So I raise the roof a bit…. suddenly in the new space created I can see that a tree wants to grow – a golden tree. I find the perfect gold foil – the wrapper from an expensive chocolate bar.

a tree begins to grow from beautiful and fragile gold foil

a tree begins to grow from beautiful and fragile gold foil

tree is raising the roof

tree is raising the roof

gluing the tree - toothpick and wet glue

gluing the tree – toothpick and wet glue. Slow work…patience, Sue


green leaves from cigarette papers, turquoise leaves from old wrapping paper

green leaves from cigarette papers, turquoise leaves from old wrapping paper

almost done

almost done

birds fly from the tree

birds fly from the tree



"Raising the Roof" - Paper collage using candy wrappers, envelope lining, cigarette foils and other papers

“Raising the Roof” – Paper collage using candy wrappers, envelope lining, cigarette foils and other papers. 18″ x 24″


A few days later, rectangles of the original envelope lining plus a new piece of purple paper from the Paper Umbrella inspire me – this one is about RAIN, I think, and responds to the deluge of rain we got in early July that caused flooding in much of Southeastern Saskatchewan.IMG_2195


in the window…this paper is marbled gold in the back and I like how the light picks that up.

in the window…this paper is marbled gold in the back and I like how the light picks that up.


First, I bought the paper. Last piece in the store. A vivid luminous green just like the spring we know is coming….someday. Couldn’t leave that paper alone….I saw a tree in that paper, a tree with the roots showing. I took out the scissors and followed the patterns on the paper, and slowly, cut out a tree.IMG_1785 IMG_1833 IMG_1824Next came birds  in the tree. First try, the branches obscured the birds too much and as my favourite art critic, Jessie, said, “Mum, that really sucks.” She was right!!  But the birds persisted…. that tree was calling for BIRDS!!  With some birds, I recreated the branches with a lighter green  rice paper so the branches would not be so overwhelming. With others, I took the branch right out of the tree showing the bird’s colours boldly. Time after time, I turn the tree over and hold it up to the light….the tree is different on each side.Sometimes I am surprised!

the branches on this bird are made with a lighter coloured rice paper than the original branchescc

the branches on this bird are made with a lighter coloured rice paper than the original branchescc

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Linda came for a visit and made an artists trading card while we worked

Linda came for a visit and made an artists trading card while we worked

IMG_1906 IMG_1907A few weeks previous, I had Glacier Glass cut a variety of sizes of plexiglass. When I picked them up, I was amazed as one piece was huge (30″ x 42″) – certainly the biggest piece I have worked with so far. “What was I thinking?” I wondered. “Where will I store it?” I hid it under the couch. Turns out that this piece is exactly the right size for this tree!!

Next step is to put the tree on plexi glass  with  tape and add more birds and branches before I can apply the special glue used with plexiglass.

Just one piece of plexi glass with the protective wrap on the other side giving it that wax paper look. There are still some branches, roots and birds to add.

Just one piece of plexi glass with the protective wrap on the other side giving it that wax paper look. There are still some branches, roots and birds to add.

“Tree”is complete. large and unwieldy as it is, I take it out to photograph it!! It blows off everything. So, finally, I lay it in the grass.

"Tree" lying in the grass! Rice paper, other paper in plexiglass

“Tree” lying in the grass!
Rice paper, other paper in plexiglass

Then I lean it against the barn door and get some photos, inside and out!!

"Tree" Rice Paper in Plexiglass sitting in the barn door

“Tree” Rice Paper in Plexiglass sitting in the barn door. This is the opposite side from the one pictured in the grass above.

"Tree" Rice paper in plexiglass, from the inside of the barn…love the shadows

“Tree” Rice paper in plexiglass, from the inside of the barn…love the shadows

detail "Tree" - rice paper and plexiglass

detail “Tree” – rice paper and plexiglass

Tree currently at the Paper Umbrella

Thanks to darlene dePourque who lent me Mary Lou’s window and took this photo with a fish eye lens. My friend Maggie wrote that it looked like the tree had uprooted and let the birds take it for a flight!!

Next stop – the Paper Umbrella in Regina!

Dear Grade 4’s

Smokey the COLLAGE Cat

Smokey the COLLAGE Cat

Dear Grade Fours,

I thought you would enjoy meeting one of our three cats – he is called Smokey and this is our living room (a big mess!) before I came to visit you today. Have you heard of CALICO cats? Well, I think Smokey is a COLLAGE CAT – happiest when lying on papers, or even better – in the middle of a collage piece I am working on. Deep down, Smokey is an artist too.

In the picture of Smokey, you can see the paint chips which each of you chose as your favourite colour. Here they are as Darian arranged them on the table. Some of you picked more than one favourite colour!

Paint Chips

Paint Chips

Back at home  with Smokey’s help, I cut out different shapes in tissue paper that matched your favourite colours. Together and with the help of your teacher and Jessie and Marina, we created the colourful rooster pictured below. I call him Raggedy Rooster – is this a good name? For some Raggedy Rooster was too messy, for others he was just right. One thing I love about creating art is that there are many ways to create a rooster – and all of them are fine. One of the things I hope we can learn together is how each of you like to work best as an artist. Some like to be detailed and exact and like everything to be very neat. Others like to cut or tear quickly and don’t mind if everything isn’t perfect. The beauty of collage is that all these ways make for beautiful pieces.

"Raggedy Rooster" - this rooster's got attitude!

“Raggedy Rooster” – this rooster’s got attitude!

Below “Raggedy Rooster” is the rooster you drew together – when we were learning that a rooster is a collection of shapes. Below your rooster I have included some roosters I have created – one is a collage and is your classroom right now.IMG_1531


Free Range Chicken - watercolour

Free Range Chicken – watercolour

“Free Range Chicken” is not really a rooster, just a very fancy chicken who gets to run around in purple running shoes. Does she remind you of anyone?

I look forward to seeing you all again on Thursday when we will create something that flies – could be birds, dragonflies, dragons, rockets….Thank you for all the ways you are helping – sweeping the floor, emptying water, teaching me how to speak without an Ontario accent, keeping me in line and giving me such a fantastic and warm welcome to your classroom.

Smokey says good bye – here he is, napping again, near a basket of paper!! His eyes match the yellow paper.

What is Smokey the COLLAGE cat's favourite colour??

What is Smokey the COLLAGE cat’s favourite colour??

Bye for now,

Sue and Smokey

For the month of March, I am privileged to work with the grade 4 students in Mrs. Anna Maria Burianyk-Noey’s classroom at Balcarres Community School. I will share some of our adventures in this blog from time to time. We are exploring the medium of paper collage and hope to create some rice paper panels to add colour and beauty to the new entrance of the school.