The past six months I’ve been in the studio more than on the beach, drawing, stitching and printing. On Friday some of this work was unveiled at a solo show at the Slide Room Gallery in Victoria BC.

Here are some installation shots of the show:


“grass” 2013, tar paper, chalk, (110” x 40”.)


“grass” 2013, tar paper, chalk, (110” x 40”.) Detail.

“field” 2013, wood, card, paint, white charcoal, (74” x 40”.)

“field” 2013, wood, card, paint, white charcoal, (74” x 40”.)


“mean what you say”, 2014, paper, paint, wax, thread, (15” x 18 ½”.)

“mystery of stars” 2014, styrofoam, pins, beads, (dimensions variable.)

“mystery of stars” 2014, styrofoam, pins, beads, (dimensions variable.)

“here they have blown away” 2013, wood, chalk, (42” x 36”.)

“here they have blown away” 2013, wood, chalk, (42” x 36”.)

“treasure” 2013, paper, paint, wool, (16” x 19 ¼ ”.)

“treasure” 2013, paper, paint, wool, (16” x 19 ¼ ”.)

“turn to sky” 2013, wood, conte crayon, (24” x 24”.)

“turn to sky” 2013, wood, conte crayon, (24” x 24”.)

“states of existence” 2014, paper, pencil, wax, (dimensions variable.)

“states of existence” 2014, paper, pencil, wax, (dimensions variable.)

“chasing sun” 2013, oilcloth, chalk, (18” x 18”.)

“chasing sun” 2013, oilcloth, chalk, (18” x 18”.)

As you can see, these pieces are something of a new direction in my practice. The statement I wrote for the show explains what’s been going on:

          “I cleaned ocean debris from beaches for four years. It was physically demanding and repetitive work that often seemed futile and made me feel invisible. I knew the next tide would bring more debris; that I would never be able to take it all away. I needed to do something with visible results. So last summer I took some chalk and invented a new action for myself: row upon row of small white lines covering a schoolroom chalkboard.

          This series is about repetitive, sustained action. I make drawings and prints composed of hundreds of lines, dots and circles, using everyday materials such as found wood, discarded paper, Styrofoam meat trays, sewing thread, and chalk. They are made by repeating specific actions – drawing a dot or a line, sewing a stitch or pressing down an ink-stained stamp. I play with notions of visibility and invisibility. Repair stitches and rough edges are left in place as evidence of making in some pieces. In others, the marks build up until they obscure themselves.

          Much of the work requires a level of endurance that creates a tension between the effort involved and the quality of the material used. Like cleaning beaches, it is an attempt to establish some kind of order. The resulting marks, be they permanent stitches in a piece of paper or easily-erased chalk on wood, resemble a language or counting system. In them I see the history of my actions. I see myself.”

James Bay, 2012-2013


During the year that I lived in James Bay, I spent a lot of time on the beach. On one particular beach in fact, a modest and often overlooked beach, the beach at the end of my road.


If you like a beach with lots of stuff on it, this is a good beach – All year you can find plenty of driftwood and seaweed. I love seaweed.



In the spring and summer, when the tides are lower, you can walk out along the base of the breakwater and find all sorts of creatures that, until now, were hidden by the sea.



And dead crabs.


Then the jellyfish start to arrive.



The polystyrene arrives every day. Just look in the seaweed along the wrack line:


Where you might also find this:


And this:


The driftwood also collects interesting items:


And if you scrabble around a bit where all the small pieces of driftwood collect at the back of the beach, you can always find plenty of polystyrene. I tried to clean it all up but there is so much, and the pieces are so small, I gave up.


As these photos suggest, most of the debris I found on this beach was small. Small enough to fit into jars, in fact. Which is what I did. Here are the jars in my studio.


There are 76 jars. Each one has a note with the date I collected the debris, and sometimes a reminder such as “just what was in front of me.” (Which means what I found on front of me as I was walking along the beach without actually going and looking for debris.)

DSC07586 DSC07592

I find that people love to pick up the jars and peer into them. The glass, and maybe our association with jars and specimens, creates a distance that makes the debris fascinating. Better than actually finding it on the beach, perhaps?


Now I’ve moved, so my “new” beach is Ross Bay. Equally lovely and very different.


drawing lines in the sand


I have moved again, and no longer have the sea at the end of my road. Before I left, stormy weather deposited sand all over my once-rocky beach. And almost immediately the neighbourhood kids started to take advantage of this new drawing opportunity.

I decided to join them. In the studio I have been drawing by repeating the same marks over and over –  just as when I clean a beach I repeat the same gestures to pick up debris. I decided to take this drawing back to the source. So I picked up a stick,


and started to draw. I wasn’t counting the lines, or drawing with any preconceived plan. I was just drawing. And like beach cleaning, this turned out be hard work, requiring a few rests. Once I had a drawing I was satisfied with, I stopped, and went up to street level to get a better look.


As one passer-by commented, it does look a bit like I was trying to drawing the USA flag. Someone else asked me what it was about, and seemed satisfied with my reply, that is a way to make my beach-cleaning, and the debris I find visible. a kind of counting, if you like. The crows seemed to like it. Smart birds, those crows.


On moving day itself, I snatched a few moments from the chaos in the apartment. At the beach I started to draw again, but this time I had no camera with me. There was one other person on the beach, taking advantage of a calm morning to write in her journal. She asked me what the drawing was about. This time, it was about saying goodbye. I came back later to see what the the tide had left.


Circles seem an appropriate image to have used. I was closing the loop on a year of visiting and cleaning the same beach. And circles are more fun than lines to draw. They are seems more organic, more inclusive:



I have not moved far. (And in Victoria, you are never very far from the sea.) In the meantime, I am discovering a new neighbourhood, one of hills and oak trees set on wide streets. I like it.


“does it have a meaning or is it just art?”

Clare Thomas:

Here’s a post from May, from my other (not very active!) blog. Taking my art back to the beach ……

Originally posted on Clare Thomas:

After wrapping debris with members of the public at a downtown mall recently, I decided to go back to the beach.







I left the sticks in place for a couple of hours, and was pleased to see they attracted some attention. Having placed them at random, they reminded me a little of Louise Bourgeois’s early wooden sculptures: standing together, but are they connected? (

A group of students asked me what the sticks were all about. One girl asked me the question in the title. To which the answer is, of course, “yes!”


View original

never the same beach thrice

It was a grey day – grey clouds hanging low overhead and a still grey sea. In the water I found seaweed.


And on the beach I found logs.


And walking between the two I found the usual mix of things lost, dropped and forgotten.


And clambering over the logs and looking down, I found more.


Two days later the weather promised by the clouds had hit big time. Stormy weather,


and a broiling sea.


No point in picking up beach debris in this weather, just enjoy it. There were brief moments when the clouds parted, but the waves kept on coming:


This wave drenched me and my camera:


And when the storm moved on it left behind a sea made of liquid diamonds,


and a beach piled high:


And in this new mix of seaweed and wood, the usual polystyrene.


And what might be the most useful thing I have ever found on a beach!





wrapping in the mall

photo by Goolita Wadia-Shave

photo by Goolita Wadia-Shave

Over the weekend I left my artist’s bubble – and the beach – and went to the mall. I had entered a couple of photographs to the Community Arts Council of Greater Victoria’s annual LOOK show, and was asked if I would like “to give a demonstration”?

So here I am with my table set up for wrapping, talking (as usual!) with Jennifer, who was running things for the day. The show is an Aladdin’s cave of art in two empty shops on the 3rd floor of the Bay Centre in downtown Victoria. And I had plenty of “customers” wander in and do some wrapping.


Here’s Goolita, who was volunteering for the day, holding her wrapped thingy, and standing next to her lovely painting of a doorway.

Also volunteering, was Verna, who wrapped a piece of nylon mesh:


Lots of people stopped to look at my wrapped pieces of beach debris and talk, particularly families with kids. Whilst the adults all got the idea of transforming trash into something special by wrapping it, the kids were attracted by the brightly coloured wools in my basket. They all thought carefully about which piece of beach debris to wrap, and they all picked up the knack of wrapping quickly, regardless of age.





This time, everyone got to take their new treasure home. And I had time to wrap a few new pieces myself.




repetition, repetition, repetition

“We repeat with our bodies the actions over and over again… Often the revelations happen when we have forgotten the vision altogether. All we remember is that we have work to do. The work precedes the vision; creates the vision.” *

















* Bryan Saner, quoted in “Small Acts of Repair: Performance, Ecology and Goat Island” by Stephen Bottoms and Matthew Goulish, 2007.