by Deborah Rogers –
We all have it in us to be creative but it often requires a trigger to bring it out. I was very fortunate to have my imagination teased and creativity drawn out at a real artist’s studio this month. Joanna Drummond and Roger Belley run Cinnamon Hill Studio from their North Saanich home. There’s a wealth of sculpture, ceramics and paintings on display, with works at all stages of completion on every wall and surface. They had promised me the opportunity to get my hands dirty with some clay.
You may have come across one of the couple’s ceramic sculptures before, perhaps at The Gallery at Mattick’s Farm. They have developed a signature line of houses sold to people from all over the world. Although created in the same format, each is unique and individually sculpted, then painted. It seemed a reasonable prospect for a beginner.
I wasn’t sure if I’d be treading on toes coming into a busy artist studio, but Roger and Joanna quickly put me at ease. With the familiarity that long relationships bring, the couple took turns instructing me, critiquing my technique and telling me stories about the art that surrounded us. They have both taught over the years but don’t usually do this sort of one-on-one tuition; I was privileged.
I haven’t used clay since I was at school, and then it was for pottery, on a wheel – this clay felt quite different, firmer and lighter in colour. Each tiny house starts with a square slab. They are 3D, but have a flat back so that they can be mounted on a wall. Using a cheese wire type of tool I was instructed to carefully take slices off to create the roof. There’s an interesting step in creation where you have to take the leap from what you visualize in your head and make it appear in whatever medium you’re using. When I’ve tried sketching, I have never been able to show on the page what I see clearly in my mind. Making the first cuts on that clean slab of clay felt similar. I knew what I was aiming for but it would not have been clear to me how to get there without some step-by-step instructions.
It’s easy to understand why the houses sell so well. The shape is very familiar: as Joanna says, most people start as children drawing houses and there’s an enduring appeal to four walls and a roof. But how to make my scrappy shape look like an inviting little home? Through the gradual addition of details of course! There were many different-shaped tools to add windows, a door, smooth the walls, while all the time being reminded to retain the integrity of the edges and corners. With the addition of nails for chimneys, I seemed to be heading toward a European-style townhouse with a cluttered roofscape.
Time flew by in their creative company. Roger was impressed with my modelling skills and I let him in on my secret – lots of hours doing playdough with my boys! Before the house was set aside to dry, Joanna suggested I add a special house number to personalize my little cottage. I was very pleased with the result: having started with two slabs of clay with the exact same dimensions, I finished with two very different houses, ready to dry and be fired.
Then I moved to painting. Now that’s harder. Joanna let me choose one of her previously fired pieces. The challenge is in knowing what colours work together, and that obviously takes years of learning and practise. I tried, and then painted over and tried again! Artists need to be loose and experimental – there’s space to try it one way then redo. I like that: it’s not dissimilar to the way I write an article, sketching out a shape, filling in some words here, taking out some words there. I was very grateful for my time at Cinnamon Hill Studio: I learned my strengths and realized my limitations, and I have some quirky little houses to remember it all by.
Visit Cinnamon Hill Studio online at www. cinnamonhillstudio.ca.
What do you want to see Deb do next? Send your ideas or invitations to firstname.lastname@example.org.