My art residency "Souffle et Sifflets" at La Maison Félix Leclerc de Vaudreuil is over. What a ride! The project I submitted was sizeable. I wonder why I always take enormous bites when little ones with an extra long chew might do. My DNA is probably hardwired, "hot-wired", and obstinately curlicued in this way. 

Starting off was scary and crazy. The short deadline and the fact that I also had to offer four workshops to the public during the residency fed my trepidation. Paralyzing statements had to be trampled, crossed out and buried.
After extreme self-castigation, I got to work. What follows are a few highlights of my process and discoveries. 

My project had to refer to Félix Leclerc's oeuvre in some way. I proposed a two-pronged approach:

1. Simulate his creative process
Félix carried a notebook around and used napkins in restos to jot down ideas for songs, poems, scripts and more. His way of working involved a lot of associative play (right up my alley). I decided to create a giant notebook 22" x 30" that might grow in scale when necessary. Obviously I couldn't carry something this size around in my pocket unless I ingested Alice-in-Wonderland growth serum, but I felt that working big would give me the freedom I needed in this context.

2. Work with the lyrics of "Le train du Nord"a song Félix wrote in 1950
The steam locomotive seemed the perfect metaphor for my project, an enlarged notebook with pages that were unconnected yet linked like train cars. Having grown up near the tracks, I felt an affinity with trains. My mom told me that they annoyed her when I was a baby because repeating whistles and chugs woke me up. 

One of the first things I did when I began my project was to write out the lyrics of Le train du Nord with a reed pen and india ink on a large sheet of paper stained with black Caran d'ache Neocolor. I diluted the caran d'ache in certain areas and left a raw application elsewhere. Caran d'ache has wonderful properties. It can resemble charcoal but also yields watercolour effects when brushed with a little water. I wanted the text to feel old.

A fragment of "Le Train du Nord" lyrics by Félix Leclerc (detail of page 1)

That done, I began to observe and interact with my environment. La Mèz used to be Félix's home. A stunning view of the Ottawa River in front and beautiful trees and pastures in back spawned an otherworldly ambiance. I imagined Félix's ghost spurring me on

Towards late afternoon, a troop of wild turkeys took over the surroundings. These seasonal, cockeyed squatters were a joy to watch. They flew (I was unaware that any beastie this top heavy could gravitate towards the firmament) and slept in very high branches of century-old trees. I fell in love.  

The Turkey Gang -  these counterfeit ostriches that had to appear in my notebook.

Turkey tracks in the snow

I photographed or scanned small sketches and played with scale digitally to arrive at what I wanted for the notebook.

The extended wing, while far more detailed on the turkey, reminded me of an angel I drew on my iPad a while back. Wings seem to be a recurring motif in my artwork lately. Wonder why?...but I digress....

A giant turkey turns into a passenger

Doubts surfaced on occasion. What if I ended up with only one finished page? What kind of a notebook would THAT be? I developed a strategy, to work more quickly by recycling sheets of older drawings that were either incomplete or awful. This approach clearly eliminated waste and led to new ideas. I poured coloured paints without mixing on a styrofoam container, dipped a roller and/or brayer in the paint and covered the drawings. I left elements that I liked in some areas but generally obscured most of the surface. Irregular application of colour and textures left behind by the roller fed my imagination. 

The residence happened in March. The ground was snow covered in places, melting in others, muddy, rocky, in other words, beautifully Canadian. I reproduced the uneven ground and hinted at train tracks. 

When my paper was thin, I glued two drawings together to create a thicker sheet. These tended to warp when paint and medium was applied. That didn't worry me in the slightest because I wanted a notebook with a "used/abused" look. By working on both sides of each sheet, they eventually flattened out.

Binding the sheets into a notebook was not an option because holes would have ruined the images and I didn't have time to add and incorporate extra flaps on the edges for a "binder look". After discussing alternatives with artist friends, I decided on a simple solution. I created a front and back cover, attached a magnetic flap closure and sewed shower curtain rings on the front cover to suggest a notebook. Interior pages remained loose, attachable and detachable like train cars.

During the creation of the notebook, I also had to prepare prototypes for my workshops with the public. The quickie video below shows the notebook, sketches, prototypes and the final exhibition installation at La Mèz. More pictures of the art residency and workshops are on my Facebook page.

I thank the City of Vaudreuil-Dorion and the selection committee for this amazing whirl on Le train du Nord.