Goodbye, My Friend

Today a dear friend, Lizzie Ciezluk passed away. People come into your life for different reasons; for me Lizzie was a good friend, but I also considered her a mentor. She would dismiss me when I said this because she didn’t feel like she deserved the honour – but she did. She inspired me and she motivated me at a time when I was trying to find my way.

I had just started messing around with polymer clay but was feeling frustrated and isolated. I was intrigued by the medium, but didn’t know where or how to take the next step. It’s November 1995 and I’m walking around at the Original’s show at Lansdowne Park. Suddenly I turned the corner and there is Lizzie! It was one of those moments when the sky opens up and the sun shines through. Her whimsical, theatrical boudoir dolls, wild Santas and those hilarious “Bum Bags” decorated her booth. She was flamboyant;  she had neon orange hair and there was a cloud of creativity that swirled around her like clouds of glitter.

She was busy with a crowd of customers, but I managed to speak to her briefly. She gave me her card and told me to call her when the show was over and we would talk art over coffee.

We met the following week in her little cottage home in Gatineau. Her house was like a brick and mortar version of her. I loved being around her. That was the start of our friendship. We shared information and we celebrated each other. She told me about a few groups I should join, encouraged me, and showed me the ropes of setting up a display and dealing with customers. We went on scavenger hunts together looking for some of the unique and peculiar things that stirred our imaginations. Our artist styles were different – maybe that’s why we felt comfortable with each other, there was never any sense of competition. We own some of each other’s work and we’ve even taken classes from each other.

Over the years life gets in the way and we didn’t always see a lot of each other. But when our paths crossed we picked-up where we left off as if no time had passed. Everyone who knew Lizzie has a similar story to tell. Her sweet personality, her passion, her love of life , of everything beautiful, has touched and made an impression on so many people. This is a rare and extraordinary gift.

I’m going to miss you Lizzie. But every time I see someone with orange or pink hair; every Christmas when I pull out my blue star ornament; every time I see a beautiful garden and funky garden art; every time I wear one of your jewelry creations; and especially every time I eat cake . . . I’ll think of you.






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Top 50 Polymer Clay Blogs

It’s a great honour to be selected as one of the top 50 polymer clay blogs on the world wide web. Thank you FeedSpot. You can see the whole list at

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Riding the Rails

A year ago the Orange Art Gallery challenged it’s artists to create works of art based on the theme “The Railway Crossing”. The Orange Art Gallery is in a 120 year old historic building that used to house the bank for the CN Rails and is now where the new light rail connects. The exhibit runs from July 6th to August 13th. I created two sculptures for this exhibit. One of them was inspired by a Canadian song from the Littlest Hobo television series, “Maybe Tomorrow”. This is my sculpture, “Riding the Rails”.

Many people think of a Hobo as a homeless vagrant, but originally they were actually a man or woman who worked as they traveled. Hobos came from all walks of life and decided to ride the rails and live outside as an alternative. As a matter of fact, Hobos organized themselves and formed a union during the mid 1800’s as a way to catch rides with friendly conductors by showing them the union card.

The number of Hobos increased after the Second World War and then the Great Depression hit. Hobos were then considered penniless wanderers. Without money men hopped onto trains and “rode the rails”, criss-crossing the country in a frustrating search for work and food.  Illegal and very dangerous, thousands of hobos were killed or seriously injured jumping on or off freight cars. Some hobos laid boards across the brake rods under the railway cars. They could ride on these boards hidden from view – a very dangerous, noisy and uncomfortable ride. Most rode inside or on top of boxcars on freight trains.

Hobos carried a bindle, a stick with a cloth or blanket tied around one end for holding items. Supported over the shoulder it offered a comfortable grip and doubled as a weapon if needed. A stereotypical symbol for anyone running away from home, Norman Rockwell used it in his 1958 illustration “The Runaway”.

The figure in “Riding the Rails” measures 16″ high x 14″ x 10″ deep. It’s sculpted from polymer clay and textiles. The whole composition including the Railroad Crossing sign is 25″tall. The sign is embedded into a cement base which is the resting spot for this weary traveller. His old weathered banjo case is plastered with stickers from some of the stops on his journey across Canada where he played for a meal or a place to sleep. In his left hand he holds a flask of heat to help him get through the cold nights.

                                         “Maybe tomorrow, I’ll want to settle down,                                           Until tomorrow, I’ll just keep moving on.”

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The Hoop Dancer

Over the last few years I have been working with the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health as a guest art instructor during their summer camp program. I’m also very proud of my role last year as the art director of a community collaboration art installation called “The Thunderbird” that hangs majestically from the main level overlooking the earth floor. What I’ve learned and experienced through the Wabano Centre has been an inspiration and a realization of the spiritual connection to nature and to ourselves. I am very excited to be able to participate again this year with a contribution to the silent auction at the Gala in support of the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health on June 21st at the Ottawa Conference and Event Centre. Respecting the issues of cultural appropriation, my sculptures are approved by the director of Wabano and I allow changes or additions to be made by the Culture Lead at the centre.

My contribution to this year’s Wabano Gala is “The Hoop Dancer”. She stands approximately 28″ tall. Her face, hands and feet are sculpted from polymer clay and her costume is made from textiles, leather and suede. Her costume is enhanced by a hand-beaded collar and accessories. Her hoops are painted with the 4 sacred colours and she stands on a polished maple base.

The Hoop Dance is a Native American dance that is performed as a show dance in many tribes. It usually features a solo dancer dancing with a few, or a dozen or more hoops. The dance focuses on very rapid moves choreographed to mimic animals or birds. In elaborate sequences the hoops interlock to extend from the dancer’s body like wings or tails. Although originally a male-only dance form, in recent years women have become active participants. Lisa Odjig from Manitoulin Island, Ontario, Canada, become the first female adult Hoop Dance World Champion and subsequently two-time champion as well as six additional hoop dance championships. I had the pleasure of seeing her perform live at last year’s Wabano Gala and you may remember her as one of the finalists on America’s Got Talent. Hoop Dancing was also performed in the 2010-11 season of “Totem” by Cirque Soleil.

In honour of National Aboriginal Day – Wela’lin


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Vin et Fromage

Just finished . . . this chef and his sous chef stands only 16″ tall. What’s better than a good wine, a sharp cheese and a crusty baquette? Add some fresh tomatoes and basil and it’s a perfect evening.

Bon Appétit!


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The Circus

The Girl on the German Wheel 17″H x 20″W

For as long as the Circus has been around, it’s been a source of inspiration and theme in both Art and Literature. Edgar Degas created a sensation in 1879 with his acrobat “Lady La La”. Renoir painted “The Jugglers” the same year. In the 1890s Toulouse-Lautrec was committed to a sanatorium and in an effort to convince his doctors he was sane, produced a brilliant series of circus drawings from memory.

The Contortionist

More than 300 paintings, drawings, engravings, sculptures or photographs of Picasso are related to the circus and were a recurring theme in his life . Chagall saw circus people as the perfect example of artists who desire to be loved and to achieve their dreams.

The RingMaster 20″H x 14″W x 8″D

Before television, the circus was the most popular form of mass entertainment. Everybody went to the Circus and the exotic subject matter made it appealing to both artists and patrons.

Even today, the incredible Cirque du Soleil is a combination of mystique and spectacle and the inspiration for many artists around the world. Myself included. What started as a suggestion several months ago by one of my students has evolved into an ongoing series. From jugglers and stilt walkers, to contortionists and acrobats to the most recent – a couple of old-world carnival style characters, “The Ring Master” and “The Strong Man”. Movement is the challenge with this series and I want the sculptures to appear to be caught in mid-action. There are still a few more ideas in progress so stay tuned, but in the meantime you can see some of these pieces at the Orange Art Gallery in Ottawa or during the Sculpture Studio Tour on the April 22-23 weekend. More information on the Studio Tour is available at the National Capital Network of Sculptors website at

The Juggler, Nadia Cirque, The StrongMan, The Bicycle Performers


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Teaching Art

If we look back on the history of humanity, everything revolves around art.           Absolutely everything. All our accomplishments, what we see, what we know, what we feel and what we learn – it’s all art. I’m not just talking about a painting on the wall, or a sculpture in the park, it’s architecture, music, writing, food, fashion . . .                             it’s everything and it’s everywhere! Art defines both our past and our future, making it undeniably one of the most important things to be nurtured in all humans, young and old.

When I decided to start teaching sculpture in polymer clay, I thought about my own experience and what I wanted to be able to pass on to my students. The challenge of an art instructor teaching adults is being able to overcome the preconceived notion students have about their abilities to create art. Creativity is something that comes from within and we all have it, but without the technical knowledge it can be impossible to unleash that creativity. That’s where I try to make it as easy to follow as possible, breaking the process down into steps and sculpting right alongside my students.

One of the most rewarding moments as a teacher is that light bulb moment when the technique or the concept becomes clear to them. It’s almost always followed by the observation that they will never be able to look at someone’s face the same way again. I love this moment because I know it’s true, and also because I know together we’ve unlocked that little door in their brains – their creativity has been unleashed and they are hooked!

The positive benefits of taking an art class have been well documented. From relieving stress and lowering your blood pressure. Creating art trains you to concentrate on details and pay more attention to your environment. In this way, it acts like meditation. Art enhances problem-solving skills. Unlike math, there is not one correct answer in art.
Art encourages creative thinking and lets you come up with your own unique solutions. Out-of-the-box thinking also stimulates your brain to grow new neurons.

Creating art increases the “feel good” neurotransmitter dopamine, also called the  called the “motivation molecule.” It boosts drive, focus, and concentration. It enables you to plan ahead and resist impulses so you can achieve your goals. Dopamine stimulates the creation of new neurons and prepares your brain for learning. You don’t have to produce fine art to get this benefit. Crafting hobbies of all kinds — knitting, quilting, sewing, drawing, photography, woodworking, gardening, and do-it-yourself home repair — increase dopamine, ward off depression, and protect the brain from aging. (Excerpts from

What are you waiting for?                                                                                         Unlock your creativity and sign up for an art class today!

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