Category: Studio Diaries

Studio Diary: Stuff & Nonsense

Studio Diary: July 5, 2018

So much has been happening that I want to pull out each of my current activities and put them down here in my diary, like I’m emptying my bag and having a look at what all has piled up in there while I wasn’t looking! First – reno chaos* and the studio.

The Reno

As soon as my show finished, it was straight into preparing for the reno. Packing, boxes, moving and storage estimates filled our days! I struggled with finding a matrix for making good decisions about what to bring and what to let get of.  Justin and I are having deep and meaningful discussions about the nature of things, space and what we want for our home, our selves and one another.

Justin helped me make progress on my books, encouraging me to start with simply packing the ones that were dearest to me, the ones that elicited an immediate “Yes!” Yes to the Secret Garden. Yes to Come, thou, Tortoise. Yes to Writing Down the Bones. I started to take that approach in every room and it helped. One, two or three boxes of immediate yeses in each room. And lots of piles and questions left behind.

I also made amazing progress with my mom’s stuff and the timing seems just right, as we marked the 5th anniversary of her passing on June 28th of this year. My goal is to transform the 7 or so boxes of her things into one and I am almost there.

Amazingly, just as we were getting lost in the process, we found out that our application for an extension needed to go to the committee of adjustment… and the earliest date was November 7th. That changed everything. We thought. We talked. We strategized. We asked for advice. Then the other night as we were coming closer to a decision, I could feel both Justin and I settle. We would continue to go for the design we wanted and we would push our reno to the spring. Everything about it felt right. Even more so when today I called the city to find out how old our house is.  “It was built in 1919,” the woman at MPAC told me. “Really? So next year will be its 100th birthday?” “Well, yes, it will be.”


The Garden

Now I feel so badly for have completely neglected the garden. It didn’t seem to make any sense at all to plant and putter when construction guys would be walking through with equipment and throwing things in the yard. I have been amazed by how consistently anyone that comes to work on the house shows absolutely no regard whatsoever for the garden.  One guy who was just there to give us an estimate on some tree work walked right on top of my tulips without hesitation. I couldn’t help but think it signaled how much care he would take of the whole job.

Despite the garden being overgrown and left to its own devices, there is still beauty there. Two years ago I planted a white rose and last year it gave one singular bloom. This year it is more generous and I couldn’t be more delighted.

This time of year we see a lot of raccoons. This family seems to have claimed quite at least a 6-house radius around back. On this day they faced quite a dilemma. The two little babies below simply couldn’t find their way up. They were at it for at least an hour! I’m not sure whether Mom came down or babies finally made it up. I’m betting on the mom.

Letting Go

One of the things we are letting go of is boxes and boxes of our childhood Lego. Every one of us played with these pieces. Suzie has done an amazing job creating a series of photos for their sale on eBay. We hope that they will find a really good new home. I’m delighted to have such evocative photos and the memories of everyone playing together one last time!

The Kittens


On July 3rd it was the third anniversary of the day I went out for coffee and came home with three kittens. No one believes me but the truth is that I never intended to give them all a home. I sincerely just wanted to help them on their healing journey and then let them find their forever home(s). We had just said goodbye to Jinx and to Shannon’s cat Gobo. We needed some time to heal and didn’t want to rush into anything – but sometimes the Universe has other ideas.


Thinking about it now I see how all of our cats have been misfits. The beautiful Bascha was a flea-bitten, scraggly 3-lb stray who would nip at you if you tried to pet her. Jinx was a soft-hearted goofball who most people didn’t seem to quite ‘get’. Now these Escher, Shibumi and Scout, with their wild and strong personalities, are a part of our family. I wouldn’t change a thing.


Those We’ve Loved & Lost


Pouring Love In

Studio Diary: May 31, 2018

The Studio Yearbook: This has been one of the busiest weeks that I can remember in the studio. It began with getting the #first100 print copies of the studio yearbook out into the world.  Luckily I didn’t have to do it alone.

Shannon spent hours on handmade envelopes and we all spent a few Friday nights gathering treasures to fill them. Then this past Sunday we had a packing party, pulling everything together and pouring love in as we did. We three believe in magic and so we put our intention and our intuition to work as we made choices, added labels and filled envelopes. We hope that everyone will feel that when they receive their package.

Then I spent the next two days filling my granny cart with yearbooks and heading over to the post office, getting the system down and getting to know the post office clerk. It turns out he has quite a creative life!

 Class Prep

Creating a Class

The next two days were spent filming a class that I am contributing to a wonderful collection. It’s too early for me to share the details. One of the hopes that I have for our renovation is to have a space that is always set up or readily set up for this kind of overhead filming. The less barriers to creation, the better!

Dance: This week we hit the “one month until showtime” mark. We have learned all of the main choreography and are now working to hone our skills and develop our strength.  We’re rehearsing 3 times a week and have been working in smaller groups with the professional dancers. I’m also practicing in my  backyard so I can start to get used to the sun and the temperature, since we’ll be performing outside and I am not so great with the heat!

At rehearsals, people are starting to think about what they are going to wear and experimenting with new outfits, new shoes, new ways of doing their hair. It’s important to “audition” your costume pieces, actually wearing them so that you can see what it will be like to move and perform in them. I have an idea of what I would like to wear but haven’t had a chance to get out shopping as of yet.  Soon, though, soon.

Every rehearsal I am reminded that the better we know the material, the more fun we will be able to have. Plus, I’m working to stay present and enjoy the moment, not leaning into the sadness I already feel that one day soon this will be over and there will be nothing like it to follow.

This week I saw Sylvain’s video and enjoyed the sneak peek into what it will be like when we perform at Nathan Phillips square. I love how the video shows some of the pre-show moments. It really evokes the excitement  – and pressure – of doing a live performance. I am so looking forward to it and am committed to being very, very ready.

Tree Peony

In the Garden: With all this busy-ness the garden is being totally neglected. I was so surprised the other day to look out the kitchen window and see the tree peony in full bloom! The cold of winter hung on for so long and then we seemed to go straight into the heat of summer, bringing these beauties along faster than I would have expected. I’m so glad I didn’t miss them!  I hope to get out there soon and tend to the weeds.

Studio Kittens: Our three kittens give me plenty of creative inspiration. I am always trying to capture a magical moment, one that really expresses some aspect of their personality. Considering how introverted our Escher is, this moment of him curled up on my shirt is a great reminder that he is feeling love and connection. In fact, him sleeping on my clothes was the first clue I had that he actually liked me. I like you too, Escher, even if I was going to wear that shirt!

Rough Day, Cat Company & Dance

Shibumi on My Desk

Studio Diary: May 25, 2018

Some days things are just challenging and yesterday was one of those days. Everything just seemed to go off the rails! Lots of unexpected challenges reminded me that leaving space for the unexpected is wise. Now I just have to remember to do it!

On the BTS today, as I was talking about multiple project and problem wrangling, I came up with the image of corralling ducklings and this made me laugh. It’s amazing how the right metaphor can lighten everything up!

The best part of a really tough day was that Shibumi kept me company for the whole morning. This has never happened before. She slept on my desk most of the time.  I have a little pad to make it comfy for her. We played a little bit too. I put one of her balls underneath a hand drum and let her try to solve the conundrum. (Haha, I just noticed the wordplay there.)  And she curled up in the corner chair and enjoyed the sunshine. She was great company.

It’s funny that this bruiser of a cat has a gift for healing. When I imagine her in comic book form (which is incredibly easy to do), I visualize her rather ticked off that healing is her super power. “Why can’t it be combat?!!”

Dance: After a long and demanding day, I went to dance rehearsal. We’re one rehearsal away from reshuffling our spots and getting our final placements for the show. This felt like a particularly rotten time to have a bad day! I tried to relax and stay focused but still the moves were neither settling in or showing up for me. That’s okay. It’s just one rehearsal and there is still plenty of time for practice.

Before rehearsal, there’s time to go over the choreography and to enlist the help of the professional dancers. It’s amazing how each one of them brings out something fresh and different. Their unique perspective shines a light on something we hadn’t seen before.

When reviewing the choreography for one section, Jane Alison says to us with great directness, “Don’t hesitate! Change direction. Move forward. Show confidence!” Watching her dance, it’s clear this is a philosophy that informs her work. She seems to always be moving forward – no fear, no hesitation. It reads as not only as confident but also brave, maybe even reckless.

The Reno: We continue to go through our things as we prepare for the reno. This week Justin grabbed a bunch of my old English books and said, “Which of these do you want to keep?” My answer is always, “All of them.”

I can’t remember the last time I picked any of them up. Don’t we all go online when we have a question about a word or language? Still, I think someone might make better use of these than I am.

These book hold such memories for me. I remember the excitement of getting Fowler’s Modern English Usage, wanting to start understanding not only the how but also the why when it came to language. Or the Gage Canadian Dictionary, which my family often used when we played “The Dictionary Game” around the kitchen table. Someone would pick a word and we would all write creative definitions for it. Then one player would guess which was correct. Such a Ridler game to play!

Most recently the thesaurus was used not so much to expand our vocabulary or improve our writing but for coming up with great names for characters when we were online gaming. I loved playing a healer named Recovery. (Hmm… thinking about that, I might not be able to let that one go!)

I plan to only keep the Oxford, which I have had as long as I can remember. It was my companion through all my studies and I’d like to keep it with me.


Yesterday we also had an important conversation with our contractor. We are deciding whether or not to go ahead with an extension on our house, which would give us a much better bathroom (much needed) and more space for the studio (much wanted!) It would open up our second floor and add a sense of “making it our own.” Justin designed the layout which even our architect thought was great. The thing is – it is out of our budget. So we are dancing with the possibilities and figuring out priorities.

Do we stretch and save and reach? This feels exciting if it works and terrifying if it doesn’t. Do we work within the given blueprint, using the resources we have and feeling secure but not dreamy? That seems safe and familiar.

This is a question that relates to so many situations.

Is it best to scale back and work within what’s smart, reasonable and comfortable?

Is it best to hold a bigger vision and trust yourself to grow into it?

Right now we’re working on a third option – trying to figure out how we can make the very most out of the resources that we have. I am a Maximizer after all (See Strengthsfinder 2.0!)

Studio Diary: Class Prep, Dance & a Garden of Potential

Studio Diary: May 23, 2018

Art: I have a class coming up that is a part of a great bundle. I’m doing some experimentation as try to find the just right way of creating the experience that I’m hoping for the students. I want them to have a visceral, intuitive experience, take away techniques they can continue to use and also have an artifact to remind them of both.

I know that something’s working because I’m getting swept up the in the process myself as I experiment with different approaches. I managed to sneak in an hour before rehearsal yesterday and some time in the early morning today. I could easily have spent all day playing with paints and pastels!

Dance: We are one month away from the show! It’s hard to believe and incredibly motivating.  Yesterday we learned the first dance of the performance. It’s lively and fun and the music sticks with you. I was tired tonight and things were slow to sink in – that’s happening more too as we are holding more choreography in our memories.

For the dance we are arranged in lines and recently we had the opportunity to choose our spot, the place we feel most comfortable.  Yesterday the rehearsal director told us that, for a variety of reasons, there will be adjustments and we’ll be experiencing a bit of a shuffle. She also asked us to be generous and adapt to these changes.

Another lesson from performance : Your commitment must not waver but your expectations must be flexible.

This is one of those moments when you remember that you are in a relationship – with the other dancers, with the work itself, with the creative directors and eventually with the audience itself.  You are a part of something and one of the things that means is showing up for the greatest good.

As we move along in rehearsals, I think often about one of the lessons I learned in theatre. Not only is it not your job to correct, direct or ask another actor to give you what you need, but it is exceedingly bad form.  I think about it every time someone raises their hand with what sounds like a question but is actually, well, usually calling others out: “Is this part supposed to be loud? (pause) I mean, it seems like there are a lot of people that are making a lot of noise.” For me, this reaffirms my commitment to staying in my own sandbox.

Often our desire to fix things, to make things better, to correct other people is our own worry that things are going to go horribly wrong and we will be uncomfortable and embarrassed. How often do we do this in life too? How often do we try to control other people’s behaviour based on how it impacts us?

Give up trying to control the circumstance. You can not control others in order to make yourself more comfortable. Bring your attention back to yourself and do your best  work.

As a performer and a person, you are responsible for you. Yes, you can give help when asked but trust other people to be responsible for themselves. Trust the leaders too.

In the Garden:  I couldn’t love springtime in the garden more. This past week the birds have been singing joyously and I have loved listening to them. I’ve been dancing outside too. Since our performance will be outdoors, I thought it would be good to get used to the elements. Of course, I also bring my camera because the garden changes so subtly and often that I don’t want to miss a moment.

This year the daffodils have been a highlight for me. I haven’t had much success with them in earlier years, which made me sad because I planted them in honour of my Mom. When I was a girl in Montreal, we had a wonderful backyard. Half of it was covered with tall thin trees and beneath each one Mom planted yellow daffodils. They delighted me every spring. I felt like I was walking through a forest, finding beauty along the way.

Clematis Bud

Right now the garden is filled with potential – which was my Mom’s favourite word. Everything seems to just be about to happen.

Cranesbill Geranium

Including the sturdy Cranesbill Geranium which came from Justin’s mom’s garden. This beauty will grow just about anywhere! I’ve managed to tuck it into corners where dirt gathers and it has taken hold!

Peony Bud

The peonies are coming, and the ants are helping them along. I still haven’t managed to get a white peony in the garden! Perhaps after the renovation, when I’m rebuilding what inevitably be broken down, I’ll be sure to do that!

The tree peony looks like it will have several blooms this year. They bloom only briefly but they are spectacular. This was the first plant that I was really excited to put in the garden. I just happened to see it as I passed by a Loblaws one day and I brought it home. The first year it gave one singular but spectacular bloom. All these years later it is stronger, the blooms are bigger and more abundant. This tree peony must finally feel more at home.

I love watching the hosta unfurl. It’s shapes are so dramatic. Looking back over these photos it’s amazing to see the different light there is in the garden at the same time of day.

De Caen Poppy

But even as most of the garden is coming to life, some plants are also fading . The De Caen poppy is a wonderful early bloomer. When everything else was still battling the elements, she was coming to life. Even the end of her flowers are spectacular!

Now that everything’s growing well, it’s time to do some tending! With things so busy my much-loved garden often goes untended.  I am so grateful that despite the overgrowth, the beauty remains. Thank you, little Vinca, for the reminder.


Studio Diary: A Snapshot of My Creative Life

Studio Diary: May 21, 2018

Dance: I feel like I haven’t written at all about the amazing experience that I am having with Le Grand Continental in Toronto. I’m now in rehearsals 3 days a week as we move towards performing at Luminato. (The video is from Portland but I wanted to share it because it includes our choreographer, Sylvain Émard.)  I am so glad that I braved auditioning.

I do feel like we’re moving into that “this is getting real” stage when all the inner demons come out to play.  We start with the discomfort of the unknown countered with the excitement of possibility and new beginnings.

Then we get a little more comfortable and excited about learning something new and being a part of something amazing. At this stage, every success and challenge holds great weight. Our inner voice yells, “Look, I can still dance. i’m doing it!!” and “Omg, I’m messing up everything. What was I thinking? I’ll never remember all of this.” At this point, we dive in deeper or start to detach. Perhaps the direction we choose depends on which voice we believe the most.

For those of us who dove in deeper, we started working harder, building our strength, renewing our confidence or we decided to remember that we’re doing this for fun and stopped taking it so dang seriously.

Now we enter the stage when we really start to understand there will be an audience. The training wheels are coming off. The rehearsal director us giving us less clues and we must start to find our own way and recover from our missteps. The show must go on.

Last rehearsal I found myself fraught with emotions. I have no idea why. I just felt sensitive about everything.  Once again I realized the gift that meditation has given me.  For the first time, I aware of experiencing myself as separate from those emotions. I chose to acknowledge and honour them while bringing my focus onto the choreography  – just like watching my thoughts and coming back to my breathing. Afterwards I took it to my journal, giving myself time to experience and process all that had been stirred up by that day of dance.

Collage: The Collage Techniques of Anne Marie Grgich has wrapped up but I am still working on my two collages – the red and the yellow. I have loved learning from Anne. She is generous with her teaching, sharing the processes she has honed over years.  I haven’t come close to experimenting with all of the materials that she used but have gained so much by seeing the possibilities. i feel like I have stepped through a door into a much bigger room of what collage can be.

And that is perhaps why I am so frustrated that my pieces are still sitting on the kitchen table waiting for attention. They’ll need to move forward and/or be put away by next weekend as the seasonal Studio Yearbook packaging party begins! I have a demanding week so I’m not sure that I’ll get any time for them, though maybe on this holiday Monday I will sneak some in.

I’m also not sure whether the red piece is ready for completion. I love it as it is right now, so that’s an argument for “yes” but I also know that as a creative I have a tendency to stop when I “get it”, which isn’t necessarily the same place that is required to transmit the message to the viewer. I’ve asked for feedback in the class.

The Studio Yearbook & Ephemera: This week was the big launch of the summer Studio Yearbook. Now we move into production mode, including having a wonderful time gathering some ephemera for the First 100. On Friday, Shannon, Suzie and I went to Value Village to look for some treasures and spent the evening watching Netflix together and cutting up pages to find little bits of delight to share.  This is something I could do all day!

Photo by Justin

The Studio Kittens: After a spell of throwing up and a trip to the vet, Escher seems to be doing better. We tried several things and are not 100% sure which it was that tipped the balance but we are delighted that his tummy has settled. We’re also thankful that we were able to make this vet trip his yearly medical because picking him up and getting him into a carrier is quite a challenge!

Shibumi also ended up at the vet this week after getting some irritation in her eye. We have drops but thankfully it seems to have settled on its own.  We are glad that we had the chance to turn the outing into her regular check-up. Other than being a bit… well… shall we say, “sturdy,” and the issue with the eye, she’s doing great.  She’s bit of a bruiser this one.


Studio Diary: Collage Class & Book Ends

JRS Books for Collage

Collage is one of my favourite mediums and I love expanding the way that I think about it, exploring new techniques and approaches.  That’s why I signed up for The Collage Techniques of Anne Marie Grgich from Carla Sonheim Presents. (Oh, you know how I love Carla!)

Over the past week I have had a fabulous time engaging in this class. It even inspired a creative outing with my sisters.

The class suggests books as collage materials and so we took an outing to Book Ends, the Toronto Public Library’s used book store at the Reference Library. (There is another location in North York.) I have so many fond memories of this library! When I was in high school, I would sometimes (often) skip a day in favour of working on assignments here. I would pick a spot and set up shop, taking my boots off and surrounding myself with books. I would occasionally slip out for a coffee but I was soon back and working.

Book Ends with Shannon and Suzie

Shannon, Suzie and I had a wonderful time going through the books. Not surprisingly, Suzie came home with a few food books and Shannon spent precisely her budget on quite a range of choices! I found some beautiful books in the art, travel and garden sections. (Again, no surprise, lol. We are who we are!)Gather Collage Images

After acquiring the books, it was time to harvest images.  I know, we book lovers find it hard for to cut, tear, break apart a book. It just feels wrong somehow! Over the years I have become more comfortable with it, especially when using secondhand materials. It sometimes feels like giving work a new life and I feel such love for each of the pieces I use and gratitude towards the book itself.  I have made peace with it.

Next it was time to start putting a layer of collage on our canvas. I chose to work with a wood support because I find it so much easier for applying some pressure to smooth out the images. I use a linen cloth to do that, rubbing it down in the hopes of avoiding air bubbles. I’m only ever partially successful. I think every collage artist works to find the secret of smooth, well-adhered images.

Some lessons I’ve learned:

  • Be liberal with glue stick. If pockets form, it’s almost certainly because you missed a spot.
  • Consider using glue stick on the back of the piece and also on the support.
  • Whether you’re using glue stick or gel medium, smooth down each piece as you go. Use a bone folder, a credit card, a cloth or your fingers. (Only use the cloth with drier adhesive)
  • I’m experimenting with Yes paste. I didn’t enjoy the process as much with the Yes paste but I definitely feel my images lay flatter.
  • Let your glue dry overnight before using gel medium overtop.
  • Gel medium will impact the look of your work so stay unattached or don’t use it.

Red Collage

Usually with a piece this big I work at the kitchen table but I really wanted to be in my studio space. I did move downstairs for applying gel medium overtop.

It wasn’t tremendously successful. One strategy for removing bubbles is to use an Xacto knife to cut them open and then get some medium underneath and smooth it down. Our process uses such thick medium, that I didn’t find it successful. I did feel motivated to keep working on getting things smoother so I did a second collage using Yes paste as the adhesive. It was a bit more successful and now I have two collage pieces to work with for class.

My Studio Diaries Are Back

Jamie in a Beret

A couple of years ago, I started a series on my blog called Studio Diaries. It was a way of capturing and sharing the experiences, moments and insights of my creative life. (As I say that, it strikes me that it was also the beginning of the Studio Yearbook!!) Also, I missed blogging as a creative outlet, as a free and open space to follow my muse, a welcoming home for the wild stream of ‘stuff’ that consistently wants to pour out of my creative heart. I thought it would be a way of sharing possibilities, resources and learnings – plus a little bit more of me and my creative life.

I let it go for a variety of reasons, from someone telling me they didn’t love the series  to feeling conflicted about whether to share my own unfiltered process at the studio blog. A Studio Principle helped me decide to give it another go.

A Studio Principle convinced me to give it another go.

Studio Principle: There is room for you.

That phrase dropped into my heart and took hold during a Nia class several years ago. The class was full and we were moving! Our teacher noticed that many of us were pulling back, reining ourselves in because of the crowd. She called out, “There’s room for you!”

I could’ve cried. I had never heard those words before: “There’s room for you.” I decided to believe her and danced.

So, here and now, I am deciding that there is room for me. I’m envisioning ‘Studio Diaries’ as my personal studio space within the Jamie Ridler Studios complex. It reminds me of the open studios at Harbourfront, here in Toronto. Artists go about their work and the public can walk by and gaze in. They might catch someone firing some glass, assembling jewellery or eating their lunch  It is at one time both demystifying and inspiring. I hope that will be the case here.

My Studio Diaries will be irregular, unedited and unabridged. They will be just like a diary, the wild and true inner workings of my creative heart.