Isabelle Arsenault – Illustrator

Let’s talk about illustrators. I’m a sucker for art. If I had unlimited funds and my own library, I would buy just about any book ten times over if I loved the new cover design and/or someone filled it with art.

This is why I love picture books. One of my favourite things about my trip to visit the niblings earlier this spring was reading books to the kids at bedtime. They loved it because they got more time with aunty Anne and I loved it because I got more time with the kids … and I got to read a bunch of kids books. One night, my sister-in-law (who is awesome, for the record) sent me down after bedtime reading with a handful of books that she loved because of the art. I was in heaven. They are all delightful in their own unique ways and I made a list of new-to-me kids book authors and illustrators to check out.

Isabelle Arsenault was not one of them, but seeing all that fabulous art made me think about illustrators, and it got me thinking: I review books all the time and I love art, so why don’t I ever talk about books based on their art?

Today, I would like to introduce you to the art of Isabelle Arsenault, an award winning Canadian illustrator based out of Montreal.


I first discovered her art through House of Anansi Press. I had a coupon from them and was planning on picking up a novel, but ended up picking a “kids” books called Jane, the Fox and Me, written by Fanny Britt, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault. I fell in love with the art immediately. I “read” the book twice before actually reading the words because I just loved the art. The story is pretty great, too, but it was the art that I fell in love with.

From: Jane, the Fox & Me
From: Jane, the Fox & Me
From: Jane, the Fox & Me

I love the roughness of the pencil and I loved how she easily transitioned from a rugged, almost sketch-like neutral or grayscale illustrations to beautiful, colour-filled spreads that felt like they could be in a gallery. I know that a lot of people would disregard Arsenault’s style as unfinished, but I think that it’s a triumph because it shows that you only need a pencil to make something beautiful.

Top: Cloth Lullaby. Bottom: You Belong Here.

I picked up a couple of library books that were also illustrated by Arsenault and found the same gorgeous work. You Belong Here (written by M H Clark) had the same mostly-grayscale motif and was full of beautiful pictures. Cloth Lullaby (written by Amy Novesky) was filled with colour and pushed the boundaries of imagination, which suited the content beautifully because it’s a biography of the artist Louise Bourgeois. I ended up purchasing a copy of the latter because I loved both the biography and the illustrations.

From: You Belong Here
From: Cloth Lullaby

There are many other books with Arsenault’s illustrations and you can buy prints of some of her work at Sur Ton Mur, a store in Montreal that celebrates and sells illustrations by several wonderful artists.

Who are your favourite illustrators? I’m always eager to find new artists.


I have an art-a-day calendar at work. It has a varied collection of art in different forms and from different eras. Most are easy to at least appreciate, a few have found themselves hidden behind my water bottle, and several have made me wish that I could leave it for just one more day. It occurs to me that a good way to acknowledge and document some of the ones I enjoy the most would be to share them. So, here’s last Friday’s, which I adore:

La Plage de Saint-Clair, 1906-07
La Plage de Saint-Clair, 1906-07 (oil on canvas) by Cross, Henri-Edmond (1856-1910); 65×81 cm; Musee de l’Annonciade, Saint-Tropez, France; French, out of copyright

La Plage to Saint-Clair, 1906-07, by Henri-Edmond Cross, a French painter and printmaker who’s most acclaimed as a master of Neo-Impressionism. The colours in this painting were the first thing I noticed. They’re rich, vibrant and span the rainbow. I think it also stuck out for me because, while watching some videos about landscape quilting, I’d been reminded that one of the methods used to create depth is to use more vibrant colours in the foreground and more muted colours in the background. This painting illustrates that with the vibrant tree and slopes in the front, and the pale hills in the back.

But, mostly it was the colours.

I’m a sucker for colours.

Giving up on art: my personal history

Yesterday, I read a book called “The Artist in the Office – How to creatively survive and thrive seven days a week,” by Summer Pierre. Within the first few pages, I knew this was a book I needed to read. I posted this on Instagram the other day, but I that I had more to say (or, perhaps, I had more to more to admit).

Making it meant … the ability to do art full time … Until then, I wasn’t a real artist. As a result, I felt ashamed and invisible next to the people who enjoyed their jobs. I wasn’t a real employee and I wasn’t a real artist.”

I let my own dreams be squashed mid-year grade 12.

I don’t recall anyone specifically saying that art was a useless career choice, but I do remember being encouraged to aim for “real” degrees and “real” jobs. When I applied for university, I applied to biology programs and didn’t even bother with a minor in art. I think that my art teacher and dad were the only ones who ever questioned my decision, but I was a people pleaser and lacked to courage to stand up to all the perceived naysayers.

For years, I used excuses to make myself feel better about not being a “real” artist: art won’t get me a stable job that pays well; I’m a busy student and need to focus on my studies; I have a “real” job and need to stop dreaming because I’m an adult now; I should be doing job related training when I have free time, not art; I’ve lost what skill I had, so I’m no longer an artist and should give up on that dream; etc. Eventually, I just gave up. There was no point in doing something I loved if I didn’t have the time or the skill.

One could argue that I gave up on myself in grade 12, but I still did art – doodling in class, hand drawing overhead sheets (this was back in the later 90’s and my small school still used overhead projectors in all but the larger classrooms), and even hand drawing graphics for friend’s projects. Quitting on my art (and, by extension, myself) came much later. I don’t know exactly when, but I know some of the contributing factors. With my mother dying and my father more-or-less out of the picture, I felt like I needed to be responsible and get a real job (it didn’t help that some pretty influential people in my life agreed). While my art had been encouraged when I was young, I no longer had that extra boost that I needed (most of my family seemed to think that art was just a hobby). I’d also just finished a degree that I had been passionate about, only to find that it was a dead end for me as I wasn’t willing (or, realistically, able) to lead a life of scrounging for contract work – I had student loans to pay and I no longer had a home (mom would have let me live with her for more-or-less-free at least until I was established enough to get regular contracts, but she’d died before my degree was even finished). All this combined with a few years of general bad luck, left me as a sad husk of my former self with nothing to show for it other than I career that I would quickly become bored with in just a few short years. [I should note that grad school happened between mom dying and my career starting– it was a good, but mostly artless, two years for me and I don’t regret getting a library studies degree.]

In retrospect, I think that giving up on art was, in many ways, a desperate attempt to not feel sad and angry about my wasted talent – if I wasn’t doing it, then I wasn’t being reminded of how I’d once had dreams of being at least a part time artist – someone who might work a day job, but go home to create art that was “real” and “good.”

At one point (I can’t remember exactly when or even what triggered it), I tried quilting and stitching. I had embroidered in the past (I was a creative kid, so I embroidered jeans pockets and such), but quilting was new to me. At first, I loved it and I was convinced that I’d found a creative outlet, but I started to get bored with it. I loved the pretty fabrics, but mostly I just wanted to study their patterns. I loved the ingenuity of some of the quilt artists, but I didn’t have the patience to do the same sorts of quilt projects. It was more or less the same for stitching, though on a smaller scale as it’s easier to complete a small stitching project (not to mention easier to take to work, tidy up, etc.).

Meanwhile, things weren’t much happier for me in the career department. I work a cubicle job. I’m a business analyst and I’m fairly senior on the scale, so my work often involves collaboration, advising clients, researching, etc. It’s not a bad job: I’m paid well, I have great benefits, and my boss is a nice guy. But, it can be very boring and it’s very far from anything that I have any love for, commitment to, or interest in (I was interested for the first year or so, but then I realized that I’d hit the end of what I needed to learn and was forever doomed to relearning the same concepts with different buzz words).

I felt bad for complaining (not that my guilt stopped me). There was nothing awful about my job; it was just the wrong one for me. I tried to shift my job back to actual librarianship, but had the bad luck of looking just when the library job market seemed to be taking a pretty big swing downwards. I tried to find similar work in other departments, hoping that having to learn their business and such would at least give me something new to learn. Again, the job market was on a downturn. I eventually found a new job within my current department that was at least a little different. It was good for a while, but it’s gotten boring again. I miss doing work that felt like it mattered or that required learning new things fairly regularly. My learning is pretty much limited to business skills at this point (project management, etc.) and it’s all dreadfully boring.

So, last year, I finally found myself in that terrible place: I didn’t fit at work and I didn’t fit in art. I was in the same place the author describes on the page I shared above.

I know there’s not much I can do about my career right now. I’ll keep my eyes open for something new or more interesting, but, as mentioned, I’m far afield of anything that interests me and I suspect that may mean having to make a pretty major career shift. I could do that, but I’m not willing to until I have greater stability (more money saved, etc.). Such is the life of someone who can’t rely on another person’s income for groceries :)

Art, on the other hand, is something that I can do something about. While I haven’t done anything huge, yet, I have been taking small steps. I bought myself a membership to the art gallery so that I’d go more often and not just when they have The Group of Seven or other favourites (the gallery pales in comparison to most of the others I’ve been to, but it’s better than nothing). I’ve also been doing a lot of reading, especially art related books and comics or graphic novels – basically anything that will remind me of what I used to know about art and inspire me. I’m also sketching a lot more often. It may not be every day (yet) and it may just be a tiny thumbnail of something I saw on a walk, but, right now, I’m trying to focus on habit versus skill. I plan to start taking some classes later this year (if nothing else, I have a couple Craftsy classes that I purchased ages ago, but haven’t yet watched).

This book, is one of the art related books I’m reading. I picked it up on a whim. I can’t remember where I read about it, but I’m already glad that I found it. It has some good insight and a wide variety of ideas for creative things that you can do at work (during your breaks, of course). It also acknowledges that some people do better with a day job (as opposed to being a full time artist), which was nice to read as I will likely always have a day job.

She touched on the false idea that your work has to matter in order to amount to anything (i.e., in order to have “worth”). This both makes us feel like we have to have large amounts of time set aside to get anything accomplished and stalls our progress (think of all that time preparing but not doing).

Speaking of preparing but not doing, she comes back to this problem several times in the book. Inspiration is good, but there comes a point where you just need to start doing things. I know that I’m bad about looking and looking and looking and looking, but never doing. As the book noted, looking, reading, getting ready will eventually become your life if you don’t include the actual art making. I don’t want that to be my life (not completely, anyway, though as a librarian, research is something that I enjoy). I know that I’ll have to keep that in check and remind myself to “do.” I’m letting myself read as much as I want right now, but I have a cut off date for when I have to start taking classes and actually making art. I’m also making myself work on a daily sketch habit. I’m not quite there yet, but I sketch most days for at least a few minutes.

I’m very glad I read this book, if only because it made me think about when and why I quit art. I have two other similar types of books that I will read next and I hope to find a few more resources to help encourage and inspire me.

Do you have any art resources that inspire you? Blogs? Galleries? Books (self-help, reference, graphic, or even novels)? I’d love to hear about them and about how they inspire you.

Sea stars by Fog and Swell

If you know anything about me, than you won’t be surprised that I love, LOVE, **LOVE** the beautiful soft sculptures made by Kristy of Fog and Swell. I now own a sea urchin, a textile art wall hanging (depicting a beach scene), and 3 sea stars. Each of these items bring me joy and inspire me.

The wall hanging was a big deal for me at the time because I have loved it for a long time, but couldn’t bring myself to buy it as it was (rightly) priced in the $200 range. But, she had a sale, which I took advantage of, and, being the sapping coast loving gal that I am, I might possibly have gotten choked up with joy when it arrived.


The urchin is one of a few treasures I keep on my kitchen table.


The sea stars are meant to be tree ornaments, but I love them too much to keep them boxed up for most of the year, so I hung them on my wall next to my gallery of pictures from magazines and my Katie Daisy prints.


Clearly, I need at least one more sea star. She does custom orders, so I’m thinking about asking for one more star (maybe a repeat of the lovely yellow one in this picture) and maybe a mussel (like one of these gorgeous pieces) to hang at the bottom.

Just so you know, she has a blog where she posts lovely pictures and such. She can also be found on Facebook.

I heart: Kandise Brown

A couple years ago, I had the privilege of working with two lovely fellow students over the summer in a government library. One of them was going to be coming a bit later because she was in France. France! She was a women of the world and I was envious of her before I even met her. I think I half expected her to come waltzing in on the first day with posh clothes and many tales of wonder. She’s a wonderful and interesting person and she had the courage to start her own photography company

The three of us kept in touch (thank you, Facebook), so I was able to watch on the sidelines as she first launched her business, starting picking up speed and progressed into what she is today: a fantastic lifestyle and wedding photographer who makes even my cold, bitter inner grump wish I was getting married just so I could hire her. I speak of none other than Kandise Brown.

I have loved her photography for a long time. Everything from the early days of fun pictures in the library (long before she started her business) to the lovey-dovey wedding shots of complete strangers you can find in her portfolio now.

The funny thing is that even though I’m not the slightest bit interested in taking pictures of people (or even becoming a professional photographer), I find her work really inspirational. I’m always eager to see what’s new and surprised to find that it gets my creative juices flowing. I think that it’s because her pictures are things of beauty and often lots of fun, so they make me smile and make me want to do something creative, too.

Recently, she took the bold step of re-naming and re-branding her business. It’s been really interesting to see the new product and see her process. I love her brand inspiration Pinterest board and I love the new website. They inspire me.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not planning on doing my own re-design, but I can’t help thinking that I should start my own inspiration board in case I decide to in the future.

I highly encourage you to visit Kandise’s website and check out her work. And, if you’re in the market for a photographer, I can at least attest to the fact that she’s a lovely person.

A few things that have inspired me recently

In these past few weeks a few important, though seemingly unrelated, things happened: I read a book; a friend re-branded and re-designed her business; and, I decided to look into downsizing, which has meant that I’ve had to re-evaluate what I really need versus what I keep just because I have the space.

The book I read was “Steal Like an Artist” by Austin Kleon. If you are a creative person (professionally or as a hobby, like myself), go read it. It’s a quick read, but it’s full of great ideas, words of encouragement, and inspirational thoughts. For me, it was exactly what I needed right now. It left me feeling inspired, energized, and ready to embrass my creativity.

The friend who re-branded and re-designed is Kandise Brown, an ex-coworker and a fantastic wedding/portrait photographer. Her courage and design aesthetic (yes, she hired people to do the grunt work, but she still had to pick final designs) inspire me and she’s been generously sharing some of the design process with us. I’m not going to run out and hire someone to completely re-design my site, but it did inspire me to do a little clean up, add “find more header pictures” to the top of my to do list and start thinking aobut whether or not I might want to eventually to a little more customization or add a little more content to my blog.

Lastly, my decision to downsize. I’ve actually been thinking about this for a long time. I feel a little guilty for having such a large apartment to myself and I’ve been getting annoyed with all the wasted space (lots of hallway) and my disconnection from my bedroom (the one room with nothing beautiful or inspirational – it’s just a room). So, I started doing a spring cleaning and finding things that I didn’t need or want. Then I started going through everything again and realized that I had even more that I don’t need or want. Next thing I knew, I was deciding that even if I live in my current apartment for just a few more months, I still need to make it liveable, so I completely re-arranged my living room (now I have more electrical outlets and light at my sewing table). It forced me to go through everything and re-organize my creative things (paper, paints, fabric, etc.), which reminded me of how much I have to work with.

All of these things have fed into my re-connection with my creative side and have inspired me in some way or another. All of this is making me feel energized and more inclined to try things I would have otherwise thought I “couldn’t” do.

Lovely coastal textile art

Yesterday, I stumbled onto Fog and Swell. It’s really hard to find inspirational pictures and art from Canadian coastal areas because they always get lost in lists of thousands of tropical locals. Tropical locations are lovely, but temperate locations are what I grew up with and learned about, so they tend to attract me the most. And, we Canadians have some amazing coasts and coastal critters.

 Kristy (of Fog and Swell) is a lucky bugger because she lives on beautiful Vancouver Island and has an amazing coastal location for inspiration. She has a number of lovely pieces (I’d buy them all, if I could sneak them into my budget). I’m seriously considering saving up to buy one of her wall hangings. And her urchins, oh her urchins – I love them so much! [Edit: Yeah, I bought it!]

I heart Aimee Ray

I love Aimee Ray’s work. She does amazing plush critters, gnomes (or, as she calls them, NŌM gnomes), Blythe doll outfits, and embroidery. She even wrote what might be one of my favourite books, Doodle Stitching. I’ve following her blog for a while now and I’m always inspired by what she shares.

I especially love her gnomes, but I don’t really have anywhere to put them (I don’t have many surfaces because I still haven’t bothered with getting shelves). So, when she blogged about gnome ornaments, I dropped everything and clicked over to her shop to buy a couple. They’re adorable and a perfect addition to my tree, which needs some more crafty variety. Needless to say, I was super excited when I saw her name on a package I received yesterday, and even more excited when I opened the package.

The gnomes are wee things (a couple centimetres tall) and they came with the cute string of banners in the picture. I love them on the tree.

NŌM Christmas ornaments

As I mentioned, Aimee Ray also has a book (actually, I think she has a couple) called Doodle Stitching. I bought it a little while ago but I haven’t done much more than browse through it as I’ve been focusing on cross stitch while I learn. I still have a couple more cross stitch patterns to do (one of which was supposed to me a Christmas present, oops), but I plan to start working on some of the projects in her book in the new year.

Here’s a bonus picture of my tree: