Art that took 10 years to finish: a forest deity.

In 2004 I went for a hike on the Niagara Escarpment in Hamilton with a dear friend. We found some deer bones by the railroad tracks and I felt compelled to collect them, wash them, and together with other bits and pieces I had collected on hikes and the like over the years (pockets are for filling, ya know), I forged a creature small in stature but large in spirit: a sort of forest diety representing all the life of the forest, the passage of time, rebirth and renewal. He is made of all organic materials, and notably, his heart is the hard, smooth, dark, shiny seed of some unknown tree that floated right up to me on the surface of the ocean in Costa Rica, some many years earlier. I adored him and respected him, but became greedy in my desire to keep him close. But he does not belong to me, and cannot belong to anyone. After nearly 10 years in storage, I finally took his crumbling body and fresh hemp twine back to the same area of the escarpment with that same dear friend. While Joe was so kind as to document the process, I rebuilt this creature of sticks and bones, selected a subtle place for him at the base of a tree, and adorned him with flowers. I built a medicine wheel around him, gathering stones of appropriate sizes and placing them around him – a large stone in each of the four cardinal directions, and a smaller stone in between each of these. Properly returned to his home, we hiked back, and he remains there to grin in the moonlight, be sniffed by squirrels, have spiders’ webs crocheted into his ribs, be landed on by butterflies, and gradually melt back into the forest.

Photography by Joe Sneep and Candace Bell, 2013. To see the rest of the images, visit the Forest Spirit page on my official website, here.

Rebuilding the Bone Man

forest spirit


Foxes howling in my ears


On some days

The past can sing

So loudly in my ears.

But no song

Can revive the crumbled dust

Of yesterday

And place it in front of you


You chose

To sing along.


Sometimes I feel like I missed out on so much, all those years

And then I remember

That there is no normal

And we’re all just here

With our frozen pasts behind us

And ahead nothing but space

To be filled with choices

We make




I just finished a new drawing – part of this newer theme I’ve been dancing with. I like how Clarissa Pinkola Estes relates the wolf to the archetypal Wild Woman Self inside each of us. So the idea here is choosing to feed my inner wild self, which in turn feeds me; allowing myself to receive wisdom from my wild inner self, and showing thanks by letting her come out and play. Giving and receiving. A river of communication. The two fractionated selves slowly merge into a whole self.

Let yourself be what ya are and feel what ya feel and do what you feel moved to do. Sing and scream and shake and love and defend and feed and dance and dig and rest and snarl and spin and laugh and rejoice, rejoice, rejoice.

Listen to your gut.

Let yourself out to play.

Stop thinking so damn much, and just feel for a moment.

Collect the bones of your life and sing over them.

Feel the Earth holding you up.

Bare your teeth in a crazy grin.

Open the lines of communication.

Rewild yourself.

water share

Colours and Deer and My Life as a Quilt

ImageHowdy there, Earth Wanderers. Thanks for stopping by my lil’ old art page today. As a thank you for visiting, please behold this deer bursting forth from a flurry of colour and shape. I painted this in honour of playfulness, in honour of mystery, in honour of being okay with not always knowing things.

A good while back I drew an image for a friend’s band, to be printed on t-shirts when they sold out of the ones they had currently printed. I haven’t shown it anywhere online because I felt it was the band’s exciting news – to announce new t-shirts or some such thing – and I didn’t want to steal their thunder. But as it happened, the band broke up and the shirts weren’t printed, and that’s too bad because the music was beautiful, but it’s okay because life is better to be unpredictable than predictable; it’s good at keeping us on our toes like that. And it’s also okay because I got this cool image out of it. So below is the drawing done for the band, and above is how I played with the idea of the image afterwards, just for myself.


And that is my story for today.

Life is such a fun collection of stories. Not every individual story is fun, but looking at the collection, it sure it a colourful, wacky, and usually hilarious assortment. Up close, sometimes it can be depressing, but scale back to the big picture, and sometimes it comforting to know that the experience just added a different hue to a most colourful quilt. Our lives are crazy patchworks. I’m going to let mine blaze like a worn and tattered banner of weirdness and beauty. Regret nothing and fly it high.

Be gentle with yourself.

Be excellent to each other.

Party on.





My Lion Friend.

I have a wonderful travelling Lion Friend. He is very clever and says what he thinks, which sometimes makes the sheep cry, because they are intimidated by his Lion-ness and by occasional statements they interpret as ferocious. But these statements are said not out of ferociousness, but out of honesty, because the Lion says what is true, and sometimes the truth is ferocious. Sometimes you need a Lion Friend to get all ferocious on you with the truth. A Lion Friend will also be ferocious in your defence when needed, and will roar out support or praise when he feels like support or praise are due. He won’t embellish his roar to flatter you; he will roar just the right amount. In conclusion, I recommend lions for friends, and am very happy to have one. Thank you, and bon voyage.


P.S. Please come back to visit.

Living Totem Pole


Life looms easily,

We are so small within it.

I know as solidly as I can know anything

That everything is temporary

And that can be enough sometimes

To wait out the looming,

To work through it,

To find the next beautiful space.

Other times there is just so much all at once

That despite all my Knowing,

My Feeling is more than my Knowing

And I become a scared rabbit

Wanting only for a small, warm space

To hold me in silence and solitude

Until whatever-it-is has passed.

As I get older I learn to embrace pain and fear,

To let them move through me and find their way out again

Which doesn’t make it easy,

But I am always strong enough to find a smile within myself,

Understanding that there is more,

Always more,

Than this.

And so this time,

When the great So Much found me,

the Too Much,

the Can You Handle the Looming of Much,

I summoned up my protectors,

My strong animal friends,

And I drew myself safe within the belly of a bear,

Deep inside a creature of strength.

Not consumed,

But being recreated.

Safe in a womb, being nurtured and becoming More.

I draw on the strength of all these animals who nurture me and protect me,

And while I feel more powerful for calling them to me,

They are not coming to me

From away in the woods;

They together comprise who I am,

And, far from being in the belly of a bear,

It is they,

In fact,

Who are in


Happy Belated Zombies!

It was my brother’s birthday recently, and I gifted to him a creation a bit different from other paintings of mine. Blue sky, green grass, pretty pink flowers unfolding to greet a sunny day, some white out-buildings with trellises in front and an inviting stone path, to be traversed by… zombies! It’s a post-apocolyptic attack on frumpy old lady style! Happy birthday, bro.

let’s get painty

 Yeah, awesome cheesy magical paint brush shot! Artists are superheroes, right?

Just here to share some pictures of painting progress over the past week. I’ve been working on one of a knocked up racoon and a badger who seems to be on fire.

I didn’t see that one coming either.

I like it when it just happens – nothing ever ends up how I pictured it at the beginning. It’s like the art’s going to make itself how it wants to be, and I’m just the tool, the translator, whose job is to let it happen and not get in the way.

While I was painting outside I stopped to snap a bunch of crazy pictures of the sun like this one – it’s a big hot pink flower in the sky! Sun spots are so beautiful.

Anyway, here’s a skewed angle picture of my raccoon lady:

And while we’re at it, here’s a peak at my badger, too:

I don’t know why he wanted to be on fire, but if you want you can ask him yourself in Nathan Phillips Square in three weeks times.

And with that, I bid you a happy day.

Progress, and the continuity of ideas.

Over the past couple weeks I’ve drawn a few new characters, and I’m feeling encouraged by progress again. This funny lil’ animal series, Billions Pass Through This Landscape, has evolved from where it began and has taken a few tangents, to be sure. What you may or may not know is that I am working toward one big piece, which requires the creation of 27 characters (I am over half way there). Each character takes me a while, and rather than chug along, cranking out these creatures, working in a straight line toward this one final piece of the series’ name, I am taking lots of breaks to play with each new character on the side. It’s like I’ve created my own set of paper dolls to play with, and playing I am. These painted versions that I’ve been showing over the past couple summers at the TOAE, QWAC, AWOL, and other various shows along the way (like the one at Bohemia I was hooked up with via Awkward Stage) are the results of my playing. This is all tangent. I am one of those people who tends to gravitate toward self-portraiture (which I’ve been wanting to write a post about as well) and about 5 years ago I started finding ways to do the same thing in a broader sense. This was how the Dis/Connect series began. And now this “Billions…” series is a different way of saying essentially the same thing. They are self-portraiture disguised. But it’s not all about me, because it’s about drawing parallels between all of us, seeing ourselves in others (past or future selves if not current, perhaps), the transient nature of personhood and the constant change we experience moment to moment. And I’m just another one of these creatures experiencing life, you see. I’m drawing myself, in all my different facets, just as I am drawing you in all of yours.

So, in my 3rd year of McMaster’s art program I carved a detailed, life-sized woodcut of my entire body, nude. Why? I wasn’t exactly sure. It just felt like the thing I needed to do. It was learning about myself. It was an act of acceptance. It was a way to present myself to the world as openly and honestly as I could while still feeling a smidge of reassuring distance. Craving into wood is such an intensely physical act – I liked the roughness of it, the feeling of carving myself before my eyes, seeing myself mirrored. The medium forced me to work slowly and encounter every part of my physical self and spend time with it. For me and the way I work, it was more involved and more personal, more revealing and honest even, than having a photograph taken to present. This way of doing it demonstrated intent, and absorbed weeks of my energy. I did little but carve for 6 weeks straight until my hands were covered in blisters and scars and had cramped claws for fingers. Somehow it was cathartic. It was meditation, confrontation, realization, lightness. By the end, sharing it with the world seemed like the easiest thing to do. I had spent so much time with it that there was nothing shocking about it to me; nothing unusual about casually presenting it to an audience; there were no hidden vestiges of discomfort.

This is another case where the creation was the point. The end product was irrelevant, and I didn’t know what to do with it after – rather, I didn’t feel the need to do anything with it. …All though on one hand I felt like I had to take care of it. It was like I had created a double: a life-sized voodoo doll. Creepy?

So now I had this woodcut of myself. Next I did that thing I do, which is to play around, to see if I could get another artwork out of it, and I ended up printing just the face and chest on different pieces of fabric, and stretching them separately. This of course turned into the Dis/Connect Series.

…Which means that the base of each one of those pieces is me. It’s all different versions of me. I made about a dozen of them over time, and filled each with a different emotion, ranging from the extremes of lust for life (with my lil’ pollination joke, which was actually a hat tip to Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God”) to having given up on life. We are not stagnant creatures – we move up and down this spectrum on a regular basis; whether our range of movement is broad or not, we move. Over top of my open eyes I painted different people’s closed eyes, dreaming. Eyes are the focal point of a person’s face and though that’s all I changed, it transforms each face into a different person. Thus the series becomes different people, our commonalities anchored in the underlying print of one individual, repeated: me. The disconnect part is something else – there’s a bit of an explanation of it on my art website (this is just the corresponding blog). But that’s the gist of it – it’s to do with the cycle of emotions that each of us experience throughout our lives.

And now taking advantage of the stereotypes we assign to different forest animals by plunking them onto human bodies and allowing viewers to make general assumptions, I’m walking through the different personalities we each house in some capacity as our identities evolve over the coarse of our lives.

Consistent is a nicer word than redundant, don’t you think?

Slightly different version of the same thing.

So now, with these 27 characters I am working towards completing, I am trying to cover the entire life cycle, from wee babies to the richly aged, with a broad range of non-human animals and their corresponding associations and stereotypes. The divide we perceive between predator and prey animals creates a bit of a dichotomy but that is not the point; the point is all the varying shades of grey. These figures will all be presented together on one large panel of wood, with one blank space: an “X” in place of the 28th character. This is the start and end point: it is where we come in, and it is where we go out. It is what makes the series complete.

That big culminating artwork I envision is what I am working toward, and what I gave the name of “Billions Pass Through this Landscape” about 2, maybe 3 years ago now, when I first came up with it. That is The Landscape I am working toward representing. The whole thing. The landscape of our lives, and the transitions that each human throughout history the planet over has navigated.

Well, if you read all that, thanks. Happy navigating, you lovely humans, and try to remember to be gentle with yourself. Everything’s cyclic, everything’s temporary, everything changes, and no matter what it is, it could always, always be worse. …But it isn’t.



PS – I always love hearing feedback and responses from you. If you have something to add or ask, please post a comment below or send me a private e-mail if you’d rather. Even just a story something here made you think of. I love hearing people’s stories. Really, they’re all that we are.