Sandra Woods
Art despite pain

In the news

One of my favourite quotations is also among the most misquoted or only partially quoted. You've likely heard Alexander Graham Bell's expression "When one door closes another door opens", but that wasn't his entire statement. His full comment was:
"When one door closes another door opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the ones which open for us."

In early 2016, I had the absolute pleasure of finding my dream job; a role that combined my recently-earned graduate degree in bioethics with healthcare philanthropy, ethical financial and organizational governance, and a good dose of corporate training and development - building on my military experience as an officer-instructor.
Within several months I was diagnosed with a rare disease, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) or Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) as it had previously been known. Both an autoimmune disease a neuro-inflammatory condition, CRPS primarily affected my right hand and arm, causing issues with the bones, joints, and skin. There was localized oedema or swelling, when my fingers would balloon out like giant sausages. The skin over this area would change colour, from almost pale blue to dark purple, while the skin temperature changed from cold to hot. Red stripes would appear on the skin, over each of my finger joints, and the joints or knuckles became rigid as adhesions seemed to form within them.
If this all sounds painful, it was. It still is, really. The scientifically-validated McGill Pain Index (MPI), used in hospitals and healthcare centers around the world, rates CRPS pain as being more severe than childbirth, kidney stones, or even the amputation of a digit - a finger or toe - without anaesthetic.
Unlike those pain-causing events, though, CRPS pain continues; as high-impact of severe chronic pain. I was vomiting from pain at work, several times each day. I'd carry ziploc bags with me, as I couldn't always make it to a washroom before vomiting. I finally began secretly fasting each day, until I got home from work in the evening, to avoid vomiting in our carpeted office space. There were also some full-body effects of CRPS, like extreme fatigue, and other hand and arm problems like spasms and tremors.
All that time, I hadn't wanted anyone to know how badly I was doing, physically, because I didn't want to stop working - I adored my job.
Looking back, I realize that this approach wasn't sustainable, but I never really got the chance to find better ways to adapt to working with CRPS.
By the end of 2018 I'd begun to experience cognitive issues; problems with my memory and speech were most obvious. Like the time I kept saying "congratulations" instead of "condolences" at a funeral, or "elephants of" rather than "elements of" in a presentation that I was giving at work. Once I found myself outside the door of my home, holding a key in my hand, but unable to figure out how to get inside.
Scary stuff, absolutely terrifying to be honest. Soon after that I was diagnosed with a Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), resulting from the neuro-inflammatory aspect of CRPS. At that point I had no choice but to stop working, to abandon the career that I adored and had worked hard to build.

When that door closed, I took Alexander Graham Bell's sentiment to heart and vowed not to look "so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the ones which open for us."
With my background in healthcare I soon found myself involved in chronic pain patient advocacy, volunteering for projects as a Patient Partner, and raising awareness of chronic pain - which affects an estimated one in five adults in Canada.
Although my MCI requires much more time for reading or writing, and frequent 'brain breaks', I'm still able to help others. Instead of only seeing the closed door of my career, I set my sights on finding out what I might still be able to do.
It wasn't easy, and at first I constantly overestimated my abilities and then had to scale back - which was tremendously discouraging.
But I eventually found a level at which I could volunteer without worsening my cognitive issues.

After reading research on the benefits of art and creativity for both pain and the brain in 2021, I chose to tackle my lifelong dream of learning to paint - with watercolours... often described by artists as the most difficult medium to master.
At the tike, to be clear, I couldn't draw a stick-figure! During the pandemic I immersed myself in live-virtual watercolour classes, to the extent that my MCI permitted, many of which I've continued to this day. And I almost immediately began using my artworks & experiments to raise the of chronic pain, through my Art Despite Pain #artdespitepain initiative.

I joined art associations, took in-person classes and workshops once lockdowns ended, and considered my college and university art history classes in a new light.
Three years on, I've won a national art award, first prize in a City of Montréal art contest (amateur watercolour and gouache category), and my paintings have appeared in more than 30 group exhibitions.
Several paintings that I've donated to charity events have been sold, and two are part of the art collection of a health research centre in Québec City.

Tomorrow will mark another milestone in my art adventure, a door that would have remained closed to me had I focused only on what I could no longer do - on the door than had closed.
My first solo art show opens tomorrow! "Watercolours on Two Wheels" features pieces originating from my cycling around western Montréal Island; plein-air paintings using my bike-as-easel set-up, and studio watercolours based on sketches done during my cycling rest breaks.
A mix of florals, landscapes, waterscapes, and wildlife, to reflect the beauty and diversity of this area; farms, historic buildings, lakes, nature parks, rivers, streams, and even a vineyard!

This solo show will continue through June 21, 2024 at the MCLL Lounge in McGill University's School of Continuing Studies, across the street from the University's main campus. The MCLL, by the way, is the McGill Community for Lifelong Learning:
680 Sherbrooke West, Suite 229, Montréal
(next to the McCord Museum)
Mon-Thu 0900 to 1700
Fridays    0900 to 1500
Closed weekends & evenings.

(posted on 8 Apr 2024)

I usually post "In the News" stories on Sunday nights, but made an exception this week because of the eclipse today.
My husband and I had been planning for this natural phenomenon for quite a while, ever since we realized that our area would be in the "path of totality"; that, if the weather was good, we'd be able to experience the total eclipse.
We blocked our calendars, ordered eclipse glasses from a recommended vendor, and started scouting out good viewpoints within cycling distance of our home.
We decided on the highest point along a paved cycling path, in the middle of a clearing and well away from streetlights or the lights on commercial buildings. As a bonus, we'd have a large forest behind us so could hear whether the birds changed their calls.
This spot worked out perfectly, and the wispy clouds didn't block our views at all. We were happy to have brought warmer clothing, but hadn't expected the temperature to drop as much as it did. My husband brought a thermometer, so we were able to see the temperature drop by 12 degrees centigrade - and quickly ended up wearing all the extra layers of clothing in our bike-packs.
Among all the 'special effects' created by the total eclipse, I thought the "diamond ring" effect was the most impressive. The photo below was taken with my phone's camera; the actual event was absolutely incredible.
There was also a 360-degree sunset, or a sunset effect all around us, which was spectacular.
The bird calls did change, although only during the period of darkness; the colder temperature and rapid rise in humidity stayed long after the entire eclipse had ended.
While waiting for the eclipse to begin, I did some pencil-sketching of the nearby forest. Once the moon started progressively blocked the the sun, I started creating quick watercolour sketches of the different phases - just for fun.

This quick watercolour sketch shows the moon covering about 20% of the sun - viewed with eclipse glasses but then painted without them; standing with my back to the sun.

(posted on 31 Mar 2024)

Whatever you celebrate at this time of year, whether it's a Happy Easter, a blessed Ramadan, preparations for Passover, or another event, festival, or holiday, I'd like to wish you a Happy Spring.
I took advantage of the long weekend, with a holiday break from my volunteer activities in chronic pain patient advocacy  and pain research projects, to frame a number of my paintings.
With three art shows coming up, I've been doing quite a lot of painting recently. Not only several new works, I also finished up a few older watercolours that I'd set set aside while I decided how I wanted to finish them.
With almost ten watercolours to frame in a multi-step process, I took over our kitchen island and dining table feom Friday morning through to tonight's Easter dinner.
What are the steps I take, to frame each watercolour? That's a great question!
I'll explain it here, as it's quite different from framing an oil or acrylic painting on a stretched canvas or linen frame.
First I mount each fully-dried and flattened watercolour onto an acid-free and lignin-free mat, using archival-quality framers' tape.
The most challenging step is next, which is choosing the right frame for the matted painting. I keep a selection of solid wood frames at home; most are locally-made, and sold through an independent art supply shop that also houses a gallery. These frames are sold empty, with no glass, so I order museum-quality acrylic panels for each one. There's no risk of injury from broken glass during transportation to and from exhibitions, and the frames are a bit less heavy without the glass. Some art shows have begun refusing to accept glass panels, so this seems to be a new trend.
To select a frame for one of my watercolours, I consider the subject matter, the style of the painting, and the colours. I'll also think about what I was feeling when I planned and painted the piece, which emotions or feeling I wanted to express about the scene.
Based on all of that, I'll pull out a few empty frames and try my painting in each of them. There's often one frame that seems perfect, for a specific painting. I usually double-check by getting my husband's opinion; we're both lifelong museum-goers, and he has a good eye for frames for different styles of artworks.
Once the matted watercolour is safely ensconced in its frame - after I've cleaned both sides of the acrylic panel - it's time to add an acid-free and lignin-free backing board. Depending on the depth of the frame, I'll sometimes add a thicker protective board, to bring the surface flush with the back of the frame.
Next I cover the frame's back with brown paper, to prevent dust or damage. I also find that the brown paper, with folded-under edges, gives a nice "finished" look to my framed paintings.
Finally, I measure each frame to install D-rings in the appropriate locations and run coated framing wire between them. Each end of the wire is carefully twist-wrapped, to prevent slippage and to protect gallery walls.
I believe that paintings should be finished with as much care as is taken in planning and painting them, so my framing process takes a while. They could be framed more quickly, but then I wouldn't be as proud of the results when it comes time to hang the pieces for an exhibition.

The only time I frame my watercolours is when they're destined for an art show, or being donated to a charity event, so it's important to me to that they look their best - even on the back.
Although I take real pride in doing all of this myself, for each of my watercolours, my sweetheart screwed in the D-rings on 6 of these paintings over the long weekend. My right hand and arm are affected by a rare disease called CRPS, and this autoimmune and neuroinflammatory condition was acting up more than usual yesterday.
I started this art adventure a few years ago specifically because of the symptoms of this rare condition, including chronic pain and a Mild Cognitive Impairment, so my artwork is completely intertwined with my chronic pain.
That's also why I launched my Art Despite Pain #ArtDespitePain initiative, raising awareness of chronic pain - and encouraging others living with pain to try creative activities for pain management; brain-plasticity, or neuroplasticity, research has shown that art creation can improve quality of life for people living with persistent pain - and even reduce sensations of pain!
I mentioned earlier that I had three upcoming art shows, all free and open to the public, and the first of these opens this week.

The spring Art Expo of the Artists Circle of the West Island opens with a Vernissage the evening of Friday April 5, 2024, at the Pierrefonds Cultural Centre in Montréal.
Two of my plein-air watercolours will be on display, along with paintings by many other local artists using a variety of styles and mediums:

~ Vernissage (show opening): Friday April 5, from 1900 to 2100
~ Meet the Artists (show closing): Sunday April 14, from 1500 to 1700

The Spring Art Expo runs from Saturday April 6 through Sunday April 14, 2024:
. Thursdays & Fridays: 1600 to 2000
. Saturdays & Sundays: 1300 to 1700
. Closed Mondays, Tuesdays, & Wednesdays.

The Pierrefonds Cultural Centre [Centre Culturel de Pierrefonds] is located behind the Pierrefonds Library, at: 13850 Gouin West, in Montréal.
Free parking usually available at the Library.
For those of you who're out-of-town, I'll post photos of my paintings here - after the opening night Vernissage.
Happy spring!

(posted on 24 Mar 2024)

Yesterday I had an up-close encounter with a wild animal, in front of my home.
It was an extraordinary moment, for several reasons.
First off, it's a type of creature that I've often seen while on bike rides in my area - but always along the edges of forests. Not strolling down the street, and up driveways, in a residential area.
Second, because when viewed in close proximity the colours of this animal are spectacular - not something we'd generally expect for this creature.
Third, this sighting was unbelievable because I was actually painting one of those same animals in my home studio when it ambled up our drive!
What was this mystery critter? A wild turkey.

I was adding another glaze or layer to a watercolour painting of a wild turkey yesterday afternoon, from a photo taken while cycling, when my sweetheart yelled to me:
"Quick, quick, come look, there's a turkey on our driveway!"
My husband had seen the painting I was working on, so for a second I thought he was pulling my leg - but there was too much excitement in his voice for him to be joking.

I ran up the stairs, phone in hand, and sure enough saw one of these huge birds shuffling across the drive.
We've never seen a wild turkey in our neighborhood, and definitely never by our home.
So what are the chances of one randomly wandering by, while I just happened to be painting a turkey for the first time?
Absolutely incredible...
After a moment I thought to myself: "No one's going to believe this", so I ran outside - into the snow, wearing only socks on my feet - to snap a few photos.
Often seen lurking in the shadows along forested roads nearby, wild turkeys are not among the world's most beautiful birds.
But when seen in direct sunlight, the different colours of their iridescent feathers are quite surprising.
I'd never have guessed, for example, that they have beautiful shades of pinks and purples on their faces. Or that there's such a range of colours in the rest of their feathers.
While checking their sizes online (ranging from 4.5 to 13.5 kg, or 10 to 30 pounds), I happened upon a news item about local wild turkeys from last week.
It turns out that: "Wild turkeys are moving into Montreal ...  Milder winters have helped spur a wild turkey population boom across southern Quebec".
Apparently we might be seeing more of these big birds in residential areas.
What do you think; is this a beauty or a beast?

Hopefully my painting will be a "beauty", once it's finished, but I'm still several glazes away from completing this one.

On Saint Patrick's Day, I've been thinking back to a wonderful visit to Ireland with my husband a few years ago.I hadn't yet begun learning to paint, or even to sketch, although I was already taking photos with the intention of 'someday' painting them.
As lifelong art lovers and museum-hounds, our visit leaned heavily towards the arts. Similarly to Scotland, we quickly realized that this Celtic country's art and history are interwoven; visits to historic sites often also covered art history. With only a week overseas, we stayed in Dublin and took several day-trips to squeeze as much as we could into our short stay.

Most important to me was a guided coach (luxury tour bus) visit to Newgrange (Brú na Bóinne). Having visited the Skara Brae Neolithic village in the Orkney Isles, north of Scotland, we're both intrigued by these kinds of prehistoric sites.
Newgrange is a Neolithic passage tomb, dating to around 3200 BC, which makes it older than either the Egyptian pyramids or Stonehenge. Lonely Planet describes this UNESCO World Heritage Site as "one of the most remarkable prehistoric sites in Europe".
Not only is it an awe-inspiring construction, it's a monument to megalithic art; many of the stones within this site are engraved with intricate symbols, geometric patterns, spirals, and other carvings.  The Entrance Stone alone is a marvel of overlaid spirals and diamond or square designs.
According to UNESCO, Newgrange is "Europe's largest and most important concentration of prehistoric megalithic art."

Back in Dublin, one of my "life dreams" came true when we viewed the Scottish Book of Kells at Trinity College. Written and illuminated on the Isle of Iona, off the western coast of Scotland in the 800s, this famous tome was apparently taken to Ireland to protect it from Viking raiders - but was never returned. My Scottish grandmother was very clear in her stories, when I was a child, that I should someday visit Ireland to see this "Scottish treasure".
What I hadn't realized was that the "Book of Kells is primarily a piece of artwork", with absolutely stunning illustrations.

We visited a number of other museums combining the arts and history of Ireland: the Chester Beatty; Dublin City Hall Art Gallery; Dublinia; Dublin City Gallery - The Hugh Lane (including Francis Bacon's studio); An Post (GPO) Museum; Irish Whiskey Museum; Jeanie Johnston Tall Ship Museum; National Gallery of Ireland; National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology; and National Museum of Ireland - Decorative Arts & History (housed in the 1700s Collins Barracks).

One sunny day we took a train trip out to the picturesque harbour village of Howth. From there, we enjoyed a boat tour to see the Howth Cliffs and the uninhabited - and oddly named - Ireland's Eye island. This rocky isle is a nesting site for many species of seabirds, including gorgeous puffins. After a self-guided walking tour of the historic harbour and village, we took a 7 km coastal cliff walk along Howth Head.
We maintained our tradition of bringing back an artistic souvenir, a more meaningful memento than food or drink (although we did bring some goodies back as well!). While visiting the harbour, we toured Alan McLeod's West Pier Art Studio and fell in love with this triptych. We brought home a limited edition numbered print of the Bailey Lighthouse Triptych, which now resides in our living room. A little bit of Ireland, and a lot of good memories, in this artwork in our Canadian home.

Four weeks from now I'll be carefully packing several large boxes, each containing five of my framed watercolour paintings.
These boxes will then be hand-delivered, by me and my sweetheart, to the School of Continuing Studies at McGill University.
We'll then be on hand to help hang a new art exhibition at the School's MCLL Lounge; my first solo show.
As an emerging artist, this is rather exciting for me.
Not only do I have the opportunity to select the paintings and choose the frames (from my own collection of gallery frames), I've also been granted permission to curate this exhibition.
That means deciding where to position each watercolour, in relation to all the others, within the constraints of the hanging system already in place in this gallery space.
So this weekend I played what looked like a bizarre - and rather large - game of Tic Tac Toe, across two rows of picture-shelves that my sweetheart had installed for me.
I arranged and rearranged the selected paintings for almost an hour, to come up with a layout that represented my aims for this show.
The exhibition title is "Watercolours on Two Wheels", and it has two different goals.
The first is to highlight the natural beauty of Montréal Island, by featuring paintings of scenes that I've encountered while cycling through farms, forests, and nature preserves, and along four separate waterways.
The show will include at least one plein-air watercolour sketch, completed while I was resting during a bike ride.
The others will be studio paintings that originated from sketches or studies I did while cycling, or the occasional photo I took when a bird or animal was moving too quickly for me to sketch it.
This brings us to the second goal of "Watercolours on Two Wheels"; the reason I stop to paint or sketch during my bike rides.
I live with two rare diseases, CRPS and FMD. The latter is more or less asymptomatic, and easy to ignore. The former, however, completely changed my life in 2016.
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), formerly called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), is an odd mix of autoimmune disorder and neuroinflammatory condition
What this means, in brief, is that its symptoms range from localized to full-body issues.
And, as its name implies, this disease is known for causing severe pain.
My right hand and arm experience several types of chronic pain (mostly in the bones, joints, nerves, and skin), joint rigidity, sensitivity (to temperature changes, touch, vibrations, and more), spasms, and tremors.
The full-body symptoms include autoimmune fatigue, and even the Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) that ended my career in bioethics and healthcare five years ago.
Although I've been an outdoor sports enthusiast all my life, these rare diseases mean that I've had to adapt my activities.
One of the ways I've done that, to keep cycling, is to ride mostly with only my left hand on the bars - and only in low-traffic areas.
I've also given up my racing-style road bike, using only the heavier and more stable commuter-style bicycle - with a pack-rack - that I'd used for fair weather bike-commuting to work.
Another adaptation has been to take a long rest stop on rides of more than 30 km (almost 20 miles), to let my CRPS-affected right hand and arm recover from the vibrations of the wheels on the road.
Those long rest stops were the catalyst for my creation of a bike-as-easel set up for watercolour painting, and for my plein-air painting adventures while cycling.
With strangers frequently stopping to see what I'm doing, this has become another opportunity for my Art Despite Pain #ArtDespitePain initiative; raising awareness of chronic pain, often through one on one conversations, and encouraging others living with pain to consider creative pursuits as pain-management techniques.
After all, I began learning to draw and paint in 2021 as DIY movement-therapy for my right hand and arm, as brain-plasticity or neuroplasticity training for my MCI, and as a way to distract my brain from pain.
The image below is the Exhibition Introduction, which will hang beside my paintings, focusing on this second goal of the exhibition.

"Watercolours on Two Wheels" will be presented April 15 through June 21, 2024, in the The MCLL Lounge at McGill University in Montréal. The MCLL is the McGill Community for Lifelong Learning, housed in the University's School of Continuing Studies across the street from the main campus.
The exhibition will be open Mondays through Thursdays from 0900 to 1700 and on Fridays from 0900 to 1500, at 680 Sherbrooke Street West, Suite 229.

(posted on 3 Mar 2024)

Thanks so much to the folks at the ELAN arts network, for including two of my upcoming events in the March 2024 edition of ELANews!

This organization is involved in all aspects of the arts in Québec; creative writing, documentaries, drama, film, music & voice, photo- and videography, screenwriting, songwriting, theater, the visual arts, and much more.

So it's great to be featured in their monthly arts news, and fantastic to have two different events included!

One of these is my solo art exhibition, from April 15 through June 21 this year; "Watercolours on Two Wheels", at McGill University's MCLL Lounge. It's my first solo show, so I'm really looking forward to it.

The second upcoming event for me is that I should be appearing in one episode of an award-winning TV show in March or April 2024. "You Can't Ask That" - filmed for the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) and the accessible AMI-tv network - is about to launch its third season, which will include an episode on chronic pain.

When I was first contacted, out of the blue by a member of the show's research team, I thought it was a prank! But it turned out to be real, and filming of the Montréal arm of this national show took place in February. It was a lot of fun, and I'm still surprised that I wasn't at all nervous.

One of the reasons for which they reached out to me was my Art Despite Pain #ArtDespitePain initiative for chronic pain awareness. Along with my activities as a volunteer Patient Partner; co-authoring pain research papers, collaborating on educational projects for healthcare professionals, giving talks to university health sciences students, mentoring others who live with persistent pain through a still-new program at the McGill University Health Centre hospital network, and serving on committees of organizations focused on chronic pain or pain research.

All of my volunteer activities sometimes seem a bit overwhelming, in particular when several different projects - with different groups - have deadlines at the same time, but all of these volunteer projects are important to me, because I know so many othes with chronic pain who are unable to actively participate.

So for as long as I'm able, in spite of my CRPS-related 'mild cognitive impairment' and two rare diseases, I'll keep at it. Raising awareness of chronic pain, and trying to help improve the situation for those of us who live with it.



After running an Instagram poll, obtaining comments from several local artists during the February meeting of the Artists Circle of the West Island (thank you!), and getting feedback from the organizer of the exhibition, I'm thrilled to show you the final poster for my upcoming solo show! There's also a bilingual version, with French first as required under Québec law for businesses, but as I'm not a business I've opted to share the shorter unilingual version here.

The show will be fully accessible, with no entry fee or appointments required. There's an elevator to the 2nd floor of the building, although you may have to ask the information desk staff to 'unlock' or 'wake' it up - apparently the elevator sometimes becomes inactive because the escalator tends to be more popular.
The MCLL Lounge at McGill University is open Monday through Thursday from 0900 to 1700 and on Fridays from 0900 to 1500. If you'll be in the downtown Montréal area between April 15 and June 21, 2024, feel free to drop in for a visit. I won't be there every day, as it's a three-month show, but will definitely stop by anytime I'm in the city-centre area.

"Watercolours on Two Wheels" will be presented in the The MCLL Lounge of the McGill Community for Lifelong Learning, housed in the University's School of Continuing Studies. The displayed paintings will all be in some way associated with my bike rides around the northwestern area of Montréal Island. There will be some plein-air pieces, painted during my cycling rest-stops in nature preserves and waterfront parks, as well as studio watercolours based on plein-air sketches completed during my rides.

By next week I should be able to share with you the Exhibition Introduction, which will be posted at the entrance to my solo show. That poster-type document is being prepared by the event organizer, using their own specific format, with a photo of one of the watercolours that I've decided to include.

As you can probably tell, I'm already quite excited about this; my first solo show. I've been a bit surprised at how much preparation is required so far in advance, but then again it is almost March. 

Stay tuned for more about this and other upcoming art shows, as well as for my Rare Disease Day activities and artwork for this year's Leap Year February 29th event. This is important to me, as I began learning to paint and to sketch in 2021 as a direct result of my first rare disease. Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS, formerly called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy or RSD) is an autoimmune and neuro-inflammatory condition, and I turned to art creation as a form of movement-therapy and pain-management for my severely-affected right hand and arm - and as brain plasticity or neuroplasticity training for my CRPS-related mild cognitive impairment.

Some of this will be highlighted in the Exhibition Introduction, as part of my Art Despite Pain (#ArtDespitePain) chronic pain awareness initiative; using my art to raise awareness of CRPS and other pain conditions.
Thanks so much for stopping by, and have a lovely weekend!

(posted on 18 Feb 2024)

Something exciting is coming up! My first solo show as an emerging artist is slated to begin in just two months, on April 15, 2024.
The exhibition, "Watercolours on Two Wheels", will be presented in the The MCLL Lounge at McGill University, here in Montréal. The MCLL is the McGill Community for Lifelong Learning, housed in the University's School of Continuing Studies.
Founded by Royal Charter in 1821, this University was named for James McGill; the Scottish merchant whose 1813 bequest established what was then called the University of McGill College.
This University has been an important part of Montréal's history, but also of mine. McGill is where I began my undergraduate degree in the late 80s, and where I later completed a Certificate in Human Resources Management - with honours and the prize for Top Student in the program for our graduating year.

I even had the honour of attending a reception at the spectacular McGill Faculty Club, with my husband and parents, for that award ceremony. Originally called Baumgarten House, this extraordinary 1886 building was aquired by McGill in the 1920s.
My Scottish grandmother was very proud when I was accepted to McGill, with an academic scholarship, and told me that she'd begun secretly teaching me to say "mac-gill" when I was a toddler - because she had hoped even then that her first grandchild would someday study at what she called  "Canada’s Scottish University".
She'd have been absolutely thrilled that my first solo exhibition will take place at McGill, and I'm quite pleased about it myself!

"Watercolours on Two Wheels" will feature pieces originating from my bicycle rides around the western portion of Montréal Island. Because of chronic pain in my right hand and arm, and other symptoms of my two rare diseases, I now need to take rest stops during my bike rides. Rather than viewing these stops as a waste of time, I pack watercolour painting or sketching supplies into my bike-pack and seek out natural areas accessible only by bike or hike. Using my bicycle as my easel, I paint or sketch - usually for about an hour - while my husband continues his ride.
When he's ready for a snack, about halfway through his 75 to 100 km rides, we'll coordinate by text message to meet up on our bikes. With several cafés in the area, we can always find somewhere to stop together.

This exhibition will include pieces that I've painted en plein-air (outdoors), with my bike-as-easel set-up, as well as studio paintings based on sketches that I've done while cycling. A mix of florals, landscapes, waterscapes, and wildlife, these paintings reflect the beauty and diversity of this area; farms, historic buildings, lakes, nature parks, rivers, streams, and even a vineyard.
This is my first draft of the exhibition poster, and you may notice that it doesn't show any paintings! I'm trying to decide whether it'd be more interesting, and more appropriate, to instead show how I use my bicycle as an easel.
I'll have to wait for the opinion of the event organizer at McGill, but wanted to share this with you today while it's 'hot off the press' so to speak.
Thanks so much for stopping by, and stay tuned for more information about this upcoming art show.


(posted on 11 Feb 2024)

I've been having fun this week, in advance of the SuperBowl American Football championship game tonight, following all the "Superb Owl" memes on social media. This annual trend began because of reports several years ago that typing errors had led to a spike in online searches for "superb owl" rather than the intended "Super Bowl".

"Instead of Super Bowl information, one small typo later and your search results are filled with owl content instead.
And we’d like to encourage you to lean into the error.
Because owls truly are “superb.” 
These birds are a far cry from football, but over the years the trend has gained significant popularity.
So much so, that many people flood the internet with photos of owls before the Super Bowl each year. (And you know what a gathering of owls is called, right? A parliament.)
This internet phenomenon puts these feathery creatures in the spotlight, which ultimately aids awareness, said Matt Williams, director of conservation with the Indiana chapter of The Nature Conservancy.
“I say anything that helps get the message out about the importance of conservation is a good thing”
"Owl photos are flooding the internet ahead of the Super Bowl. Here’s why", by Megan Marples, CNN, 09 Feb 2024

So in honour of the 2024 SuperBowl tonight, here's my favourite watercolour sketch of an owl; one I painted last year.
Happy Superb Owl day to you, wherever you are!

older news items...