It’s Carnival Time!

January and February can feel long, cold and boring, especially for those of us who live in the colder climates.  That’s why Carnival season is such a welcome celebration to break up the winter doldrums in northern climates and such an exciting time of year in warmer climates. I’ve channelled this theme in several of my sculptures and it’s now one of the courses I offer in my in-studio and online workshops. You can find out more on my website at under “Open Classes”, or for the online version through


Available at Le Balcon D’Art

Whenever we hear the word “Carnival” a few celebrations that come to mind include Rio de Janeiro, music and people dancing in colorful costumes and headpieces, or maybe Renaissance-themed dresses, powdered wigs and masks at the Venetian carnival. New Orleans famous Mardi-Gras is celebrated across North America. In Canada we have “Carnaval de Quebec” from January 27-February 12 and right here in the country’s capital we have “Winterlude” from February 3-20th.

But have you ever stopped to wonder, where does this celebration come from? Or, why do we celebrate it in the early months of the year? Here are a few fun facts  to help you understand this celebration better!

Carnival season occurs before Lent and is traditionally held in areas with a large Catholic population. Lent is the six weeks directly before Easter and is marked by fasting, pious or penitential practices. Traditionally during Lent, no parties or other celebrations were held, and people refrained from eating rich foods, such as meat, dairy, fats and sugar. In the days before Lent, all rich food and drink had to be disposed of, so people threw a big party with the whole community to finish all of it. The celebration combined elements of a circus, a public street party and of course, masks. Some of the best-known traditions, including carnival parades and masquerade balls were first recorded in medieval Italy. The Carnival of Venice was, for a long time, the most famous carnival and considered to be the origin of Carnival.


“Arlecchino” Available at Studio 87

From Italy, Carnival traditions spread to the Catholic nations of Spain, Portugal, and France. From France it spread to New France in North America. From Spain and Portugal it spread with Catholic colonization to the Caribbean and Latin America. (excerpts from

The exact origin of the name “Carnival” is disputed, but some state that the word comes from the Late Latin expression carne vale, which means “farewell to meat,” signifying that those were the last days when one could eat meat before the fasting of Lent. The word carne may also be translated as flesh, so suggesting carne vale as “a farewell to the flesh,” a phrase actually embraced by certain Carnival celebrants who encourage letting go of your former self and embracing the carefree nature of the festival. The last day of Carnival is “Mardi Gras”

screen-shot-2017-01-17-at-2-14-40-pmThe six weeks of Lent in 2017 starts on March 1st. So between now and then is the time to celebrate “CARNEVALE”! And if you are feeling creative, sign up for my open in-studio workshop or the online class at

If you prefer being creative in the kitchen, you can try this crispy light treat – they are traditional Italian Carnival Sweet Fritters called Crostoli or Chiacchiere.

Recipe by Ilaria at

Prep time 30 mins  .  Cook time 15 mins  .  Total time 45 mins  .   Serves 4
  • 1 large or medium egg
  • 1 tbsp melted butter or extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 pinch of finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 tbsp apple vinegar (plain vinegar or grappa also works well)
  • 1 – 2 cups all-purpose flour plus more for the working area
  • powdered sugar to garnish as needed
  • oil to fry (peanut, corn, sunflower…) as needed
  1. In a bowl mix the egg, melted butter or evo oil, sugar, salt, vanilla, lemon zest and vinegar. Add flour until a no sticky dough is formed.
  2. Knead the dough on a floured work surface for about 5-10 minutes until it’s smooth.
  3. Let it rest for about 15 minutes, covered with plastic wrap, in a cool place but not in the fridge.
  4. Divide the dough into 4 pieces and roll them out on a floured surface with a rolling pin to form a strip as thin as you can.
  5. If you use a pasta maker, set it on the widest setting (1), take one piece of the dough and with the palm of your hand flatten it a bit, turn the crunk (or if you have an electric pasta maker switch on the start button) and feed the dough through the rollers.
  6. Fold the edges of the strip towards the middle and feed it through the rollers several times, changing the setting of the pasta maker until you reach the smallest (5).
  7. Cut the thin strips into ≈ 3.5 x 3 inch (9 x 7,5 cm) pieces with a pastry wheel cutter (with wavy edge is better).
  8. Make 3 small cuts in the middle of each piece (see pictures in blog post).
  9. Make the classic Crostoli shape (but you can leave them flat).
  10. Place over a floured surface.
  11. In a wide and high frying pan, heat up the oil until a wooden spoon dipped in starts to make little bubbles.
  12. Deep-fry Crostoli, turning them twice until they lost their “white” color, do not overcook or they will have a burning taste.
  13. Scoop them out and drain off the oil by putting them over a kitchen paper.
  14. When they’re cool, sprinkle generously with powdered sugar.
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Celebrate St. Nicholas Day

img_3089December 6th is the feast of Saint Nicholas and honours his life and the good deeds he is known for. This is the day Saint Nicholas arrives in many European countries. His day, not Christmas, is the primary gift giving day. He often leaves special Santa shaped chocolates and cookies, and  his gifts are meant to be shared, not kept for oneself.

Here’s a photo of one of my Saint Nicholas sculptures. He stands approximately 30″ tall and is part of a private collection As you can see he is dressed in rich Bishop robes and the ceremonial Mitre head-dress. St. Nicholas always carries a staff and pouches of coins.

In the Netherlands he is known as SinterKlaas. He travels from Spain on a steamer together with his side kick Swarte Piet. He leaves candy and nuts for good girls and boys and in return, children fill their shoes with hay and sugar for his horse.

In Germany, December 6th is Nikoloustag St. Claus Day. On the eve of that day children leave a shoe or boot outside their door. The next morning they will find them filled with candies or small toys, but if they were bad they will find small golden birch branches, a symbol of spanking.

I like to acknowledge this day and its traditions because it’s an opportunity to learn about St. Nicholas and that he was, in fact, a real person. Saint Nicholas became a priest, and later, a Bishop of the early Catholic Church, circa 270 AD in the city of Patara, which is now part of Turkey. True to the christian concept of giving up belongings and following Christ, St. Nicholas gave up all of his belongings. He was well known for giving to needy people, especially children. There are may stories and tales of him helping out children in need.

The practice of hanging up stockings originated with Saint Nicholas. As the ancient legend goes, Saint Nicholas was known to throw small bags of gold coins into the open windows of poor homes. After one bag of gold fell into the stocking of a child, news got around. Children soon began hanging their stocking by their chimneys “in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there”.

It wasn’t until the 1800’s that the spirit of St. Nicholas’ life evolved into the creation of Santa Claus. And, this happened  in North America. Santa Claus emerged (or evolved) from the stories and legends of St. Nicholas. Santa Claus was kind and generous to children. Unlike “St. Nick”, Santa Claus is largely a non-religious character.

Celebrate St. Nicholas Day with a batch of Dutch Pepernoten Cookies

Pepernoten – Dutch Holiday Cookies

Prep Time – 2 hours
Cook Time – 15 mins
Total Time – 2 hours 15 mins
Delicious, bite-sized spicy cookies that are eaten for Sinterklaas in the Netherlands.
Serves: 50 small cookies
  • 100 g soft butter
  • 125 g brown sugar
  • 2 tsp speculaas spices (see recipe below)
  • pinch of salt
  • 250 gram self-raising flour
  • 2-4 tbsp milk
  1. Cream butter, sugar, spices and salt together.
  2. Add the self-raising flour, mix well.
  3. Add milk a tsp at a time, mixing after each bit. When a smooth dough has formed, enough milk is added.
  4. Form the dough into a disk, wrap in cling film and leave to rest for at least one hour in the fridge.
  5. Roll small balls of the dough (diameter 1 cm), place on a lined baking tray (you need 2 for this amount of dough) about 2-3 cm apart (they will spread quite a bit).
  6. Bake for 15 minutes at 160C or until brown and crisp.
Speculaas Spice Mix Ingredients 
6 tablespoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons nutmeg
1 tablespoon anise seed
2 tablespoons ground cloves
1 tablespoon white pepper
1 tablespoon coriander seed
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The Zampognari, A Christmas Tradition

img_5319Today’s snowy weather has put me in the Christmas mood, so I wanted to share a new commission I was asked to do. This is a photo of my Zampognaro sculpture. He stands approximately 22″ tall.  The Zampognaro is probably not someone you’ve heard of or associated with Christmas, but I think you will find his story very interesting.

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception on the 8th of December, is when Italy officially gets ready for Christmas. People in many parts of Italy will be eagerly awaiting the appearance of the zampognari or bagpipe players. The regions where you are most likely to see a piper are Abruzzo, Basilicata, Campania, Calabria, Molise, Puglia and Lazio. The zampognari were originally shepherds who came down from the hills at Christmas to celebrate with their families and entertain people in the villages. The zampogna, the Italian bagpipe (pronounced zam-pone-ya) is an ancient pastoral instrument played by shepherds. This tradition dates back to ancient Roman times.

This instrument is a kind of double chantered pipe. Each pipe is tuned differently according to the tradition in the area where the players come from. The reeds are traditionally made from the giant reed “canna marina” and the bags are traditionally made from goat hide or sheepskin. The pifferi are made from the wood of olive or plum trees. All zampognari still wear traditional shepherd clothing. Short breeches with criss-crossed leather leggings, sheepskin vests with a woollen cloak and peaked cap.

Legend tells us that once the shepherds gazed upon the baby Jesus, they took out their bagpipes and played. In keeping with the legend, modern day pipers stop at public Nativity scenes for a few minutes of quiet contemplation. They play traditional music, with one of the most popular songs being the Christmas hymn, Tu scendi dalle stelle (You come down from the stars), written by Saint Alphonsus Maria de ‘ Liguori, the bishop of Sant’Agata de’ Goti.

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Montreal, Here I Come!

I’m heading to Montreal next week for an exciting weekend of promoting my figurative sculptures. It will start with an appearance on Breakfast Television Montreal with Derick Fage on Thursday, September 8th, followed by two “Meet the Artist” events.

welcomeexterior1The first is at Le Balcon D’Art, a beautiful gallery in St-Lambert Quebec. A charming off-island suburb of Montreal, Quebec, located on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, you can find Le Balcon D’Art at 650 Rue Notre Dame or online at
They will be hosting a “Meet the Artist” event on Saturday, September 10th from 1:00 to 5:00 pm. to introduce me as their newest artist. I’ll be demonstrating some sculpting techniques in polymer clay and talking about my work and the inspirations behind them. Please drop by if you are in the area – this gallery is definitely worth the trip.

Screen shot 2016-09-01 at 2.48.16 PMThe next day, on Sunday, September 11th you’ll find me at the Rimawi Fine Art Gallery in Rosemere, Quebec. Rosemère is an off-island suburb of Montreal, on the north shore of the Rivière des Mille-Îles. Located at 109 B Boulevard Labelle, you’ll find incredible works by both Canadian and International artists. I’ll be doing a “Meet and Greet” from 1:00 to 5:00 pm as well as demonstrating some sculpting techniques. Check out their website at

There are a hundred reasons to visit Montreal. I hope you will add these two galleries as places to visit when you are in La Belle Ville Montreal. I’m off to brush up on my high school french now. Hope to see you next weekend.

Need more information, contact me at

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IMG_5113Hyperrealism in sculpture blurs the line between clay and flesh. They can be so realistic that they make some people feel uneasy. Life size wax sculptures, or even store mannequins are easier for our brains to accept, but once the sculpture is scaled down or turned into gigantic sculptures, we feel uncomfortable. Our brains have a “Does Not Compute” moment as we try to grasp what we are looking at.

Most of my sculptures tend to have elements of both whimsy and realism, but I idolize the work of some of the great Hyperrealists like Ron Mueck and Evan Penny. Inspired by their work I like to challenge myself to create hyperrealistic details in some of my sculptures. In this face, besides the expressive lines of her frown, I’ve added individual eyelashes and eyebrow hairs and painted the freckles so that they appear to be under the first layer of skin. Closer inspection and you’ll see the fine lines and texture of her skin. Stay tuned for what the finished piece will look like.

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About Polymer Clay

When you think about sculpture you often think of two or three-dimensional forms carved in traditional mediums of stone or wood or cast in metal or plaster. My medium of polymer clay is still considered the new kid on the block. It’s classified as a clay but contains no natural occurring clay minerals – it’s actually polyvinyl chloride (PVC), the same material as the pipes under your sink. First developed in the 1930’s it didn’t make an appearance in the arts and crafts market until the 1980’s. Originally snubbed as a fine art medium, polymer clay can now be found in major museums and galleries around the world.

IMG_3468Polymer Clay is non-toxic and safe when used properly. It is a form of plastic and some people think of the term plasticizers and phthalates and naturally think of the health hazards associated with these chemicals. However in 2009 the US passed a law outlawing specific phthalates in children’s items. Because polymer clay is classified as a toy, the formulation was changed and phthalate esters were no longer used. Most polymer clay manufacturers had already switched to other plasticizers well before this date. Plasticizers are the chemical that is used to make a substance soft and pliable. Plastic is used in almost everything in our homes and offices and most plastics have plasticizers. Vinyl garden hoses, plastic dish ware and cutlery, your toothbrush, your shoes, even gum uses an edible version. But don’t worry – today, modern plasticizers stay locked up inside plastic, making it safe.

As with anything in life, it’s a good idea to follow a few guidelines for the safest use of polymer clay. First of all don’t eat it! As a matter of fact, don’t eat anything that’s not real food. Although it probably won’t kill you, it’s definitely not good for you. Don’t eat off of it, either. Cured or uncured polymer clay should not come in contact with food in general. Cured polymer clay is too porous to be sufficiently cleaned which can be a breeding ground for bacteria. If you are using polymer clay to create pottery – remember – it is only for decorative display.

Use tools or equipment that is dedicated to working with polymer clay. There are many kitchen tools that work really well with polymer clay like rolling pins, food processors, pasta machines and cake decorating tools. Once you’ve used it with clay, keep it out of the kitchen.

Don’t burn it! The temperature that it’s baked at should never go above 275 degrees.  If polymer clay is overheated enough or accidentally burned, the PVC will break down and release toxic fumes so it’s important that your oven temperature is correct. An oven thermometer is all you need to ensure your temperature is accurate. As long as clay is baked at the correct temperature, there are no “fumes” to worry about.  Never, ever use a microwave oven to bake polymer clay and don’t use toaster ovens – the temperature fluctuates too much and the heat source is too close to the clay. You don’t need a special oven, your regular kitchen oven is fine especially if you regularly clean it. It’s okay to cure clay and bake food in the same oven, just not at the same time.

IMG_0511There are so many things I love about this medium. It’s an oil based product so it doesn’t dry out. This means I can take my time working on a sculpture. I can create whimsical sculptures or add fine details for hyper realistic sculptures. I can play with skin tones and colours. It accepts paint. Once it’s baked it’s very strong. I can work in any size from miniature to life size. I’ve been classified as a Master Polymer Clay Artist, I guess mostly because I’ve been working with this medium for more than 20 years. My style and technique has improved and developed over the years. Some of my earlier work had a very primitive look, but with practice and persistance I’ve developed as a figurative artist. As per Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers”, “You need to have practiced, to have apprenticed, for 10,000 hours before you get good.” Even American rapper Macklemore wrote a hit song about it, rapping that “the greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint, the greats were great because they paint a lot.” 

If you are interested in learning more about polymer clay and trying your hand at sculpting, I offer several classes in polymer clay, from beginner to advanced.  Polymer Clay is so versatile – many jewelry artists use it to make intricate beads and patterns. You can use it to create molds or for stamping projects, card making, creating figures, figurines, action figures, fantasy etc. It even has commercial applications and is used to make decorative parts for furniture, picture frames and more. The possibilities of polymer clay are still being explored and people are coming up with unique and creative ways to use this medium. For a full list of available workshops visit my website at

One last thing . . . in this day and age, plastics, polymers and resins are part of everyone’s life, from our homes to our cars – from our clothes and personal products to our food containers. What is important is that we all take responsibility in how we use these products and how we dispose of them. Recycle . . . recylcle . . . recycle! Recycled plastic is now being used in innovative new ways like creating building blocks for the construction of homes.




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Tax Incentives for Buying Art

I’m sure you’ve walked into an office and seen some beautiful artwork on the walls or sculptures in the lobby. Did you know that if you operate a business in Canada, buying original artwork qualifies as a tax deduction provided that certain criteria are met. Primarily, the artwork must have been created by a Canadian artist, it must cost over $200 and it must be displayed where it will be seen by clients.IMG_1122

Some business owners rent art so that they can rotate and introduce different pieces throughout the year, and of course this can be used as a business expense, however investing in Canadian art can be even more beneficial from a tax point of view. Many companies take advantage of the Capital Cost Allowance (CCA) to build their own private collections. If you’re a professional or business owner, you can purchase original Canadian art, immediately claim the HST then amortize the artwork over 3 to 5 years.

IMG_9623This is definitely something worth talking to your accountant about. Not only would you be surrounding your work space with beautiful artwork and building a valuable asset for your business, but you would be supporting and encouraging Canadian artists. One more thing – don’t limit yourself to just paintings on the wall, add a few sculptural pieces and your office will cover all three forms of visual art.

Visit my website at or my facebook page at


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