In ruminating on color, it seems that there are no constants. Like Monet's haystacks, freshly turned earth before and after the delicate dampening cast of dew, or the subtle sky around Madame Moon as the sun and stars argue over who will tuck her in at night...color is ever changing.
I am in my kitchen that is across the street from where my mum lives and I grew up. I now live with my boyfriend and two sons, my workshop is just out the front door in a small garage bay in a larger lumber and forestry operation that belongs to my boyfriend. This is where I find all the small pieces of wood to repurpose into palettes. All this busyness is in Mchigeeng First Nation, Manintoulin Island, the largest fresh water island in the world, at the very top of the Niagara Escarpment, in Lake Huron.
Tell us about your journey as an artist and your introduction into indigenous painting traditions.
How did Beam Paints the company get its start? Were you making paints for yourself? Was there something "missing" from other paints available?
Tell us about the process of making the paints! Take us through it step by step...
I make a coffee and go into my garage shop, I feed my canary "King Birdie", I water my plants and put on some music. I mix up my binder the night before as it needs time to settle and hydrate. I choose the pigments I’m going to be working with, put on gloves and a dust mask and start mixing and mulling and milling!
Where do the paints get made? What is that space like?
Do you, personally, exclusively forage the pigments? What does that look like? Do you have any special gear/holders/baskets/tiny pickaxes (eeeeeee!!!) that you take with you? How did you learn?
I have baskets, goggles, and small pick axes...those are my boys' favourites! They love to go out doing these kinds of things with mama!!
Where else do you source pigments from?
I get a nice red from a nearby cliff, and a green from Ice Lake, a cream from a place called La Cloche Island. For the more exotic colours, I get pigments from Society of French Earths, they specialize in earth pigments. I also get metallics and other synthetic pigments from Kama Pigment in Montreal. Also "synthetic" is not a bad thing when it comes to pigment. These days many people want it to be "all natural"...but many "natural" mineral pigments are made of heavy metals like lead and cadmium. Synthetics let us have the colour without the toxicity.
Me and my boys keep two hives and are thinking of expanding the beekeeping aspect because it’s so much fun. I also get honey and beeswax from Isle Away Honey who are around the corner at Big Lake.
Do you mix colors yourself to achieve certain hues or are any of the pigments left "pure" in their natural state?
Mostly they are pure, but some are mixes, I like to make gouache because they are so nice on dark papers!
How do you decide which colors to mix and make? Is it limitless? Is it based on the abundance of certain pigments? Or what's "missing" from your collection?
It's pretty limitless!! I have been really taken with getting a full spectrum of true "rainbow colours", like the brightest blues and purples, reds and yellows, I think I started with primaries and now I’m in secondaries. I am reaching into browns and oranges and purples now, also more earth colours and local colours as people enjoy them.
Have you ever had a surprising discovery in your process?
I love earth pigments! They are so easy to mix and they smell great! When they get wet it’s like you’re standing in the rain!
Are there any interesting differences in the pigment behavior/result from the same material treated different ways?
Mainly in plant based dyes using them to make ink or lake pigments is a very wild process, lots of variations. I think sumac is the best example. Boiled down it becomes red, and then when you push the pH with a base it reacts a lot bubbles and foams and then turns a great sage green.
Your paintstones and Tis'gan travel sets are so gorgeous. Tell us about those designs. Where the design inspiration came from, any considered details.
Tell us about the names of your colors. (We know, we know, it's like "define 'language' and 'history' and 'the human experience' real quick, thanks!"... but you speak so beautifully about the journey of color and the naming of color and we want to know more!).
I love the names of colours, its so personal and universal! I love how there are many names for the same colours! It is a very romantic and wonderful thing. Colour affects people in such a strong way, that it is a physical thing that evokes emotion.
That’s a neat question, I suppose its a lot like not seeing differences between watercolour lineages, I just don’t see a wall there. I think it's almost like absence or closeness, you feel absence and it makes you look for closeness. If I am too much on my own, I miss the boys and we go out together looking for rocks. It keeps you close to the things you love. I suppose that is how it became inevitable that I would be doing this! Making paints with loved ones. I think people feel that too, I get excited when I make something i know people will love. In an expanded way it's like they are part of my family under this umbrella of colour.
What do you love about working with paint and pigment/about your job?
Man, I love the feeling of it. I get to feel the colours so much and be so close to so much of them...it's a physical love.