New Work

March 22, 2022

Revising History

Revising History’ Artist Statement 

 “He hated confronting those lost moments, being presented with some detail from his past and having to look on it like a stranger. It made his life feel like a made-up thing.” — from Michael Crummey's ‘Sweetland’

Reading these lines led me to explore the concept of memory reliability, the lives we construct, and alternate realities, resulting in my series ‘A Made-Up Life’—meshing perfectly with this show’s theme.

The photos used in this series date to the late 1800s and come from my husband’s aunt, keeper of the family’s genealogy. These characters were often identified with little more than a first name or nickname and are unknown to us, making them ripe to be used in stories. I placed these figures on new landscapes, or isolated them all together, and also used original photos in assemblage pieces, creating a juxtaposition between memory and reality.

Jen Worden is a self-taught mixed-media assemblage artist who makes Wentzell Lake, Nova Scotia, her home and hive of creativity.

Revising History runs from March 26 through April 24, 2022. 
Visit The Ice House Gallery to check hours and to view online.

A Made-Up Life series

Kitty on the Bedford Shore

Girls on Bikes Trilogy - Yellow Stripe

Back of Third Pond Assemblage

Herring Tin Shrine

Yarmouth Light


Mary C

February 16, 2022

Day 2 - Art2Life Workshop


Day 2 - VALUE

Gah. My brain was overflowing, hemorrhaging, last night as I tried to process all the information I'd glommed onto. So I pushed today's lesson to Noon and continued working on my show pieces while I thought about "Design".

Lots of good things today too!

 I remember this lesson from when I took this workshop years ago, the idea of LOUD and quiet conversations being a new concept and could quite easily see this in my current (then) work.

What I DIDN'T recall was the absolute magic that happened when Nicholas demonstrated the concept of quiet conversation, adding low contrast items to a page without ANYTHING changing to the high contrast shapes.

 Folks, this is a game changer for me.

My work often has subtle stuff going on behind the scenes but I've struggled with not allowing it to take over and become a Garage Sale. (OMG love this term!)

Previously I assumed I needed to put in less which always made me feel a little sad. But it turns out all I have to do is lessen the contrast. One value up from pure white and I can put in ALL THE STUFF. Who knew?!?

 Yup. Game Changer!

A corollary of that idea is the control you have over where the viewers eye goes. It notices contrast above all else.

So yah. Having that in my back pocket is HUGELY useful! Not to mention looking at all my current show work thinking, 'Ugh! I should change that!' But not THIS day! 

 A final nugget was a comment Nicholas made ...maybe quoting a participant?... about how the painting is both the question AND the answer.

I've always been interested in this idea of having a question in mind when starting a project or series but not always on an individual painting basis. And while I've inherently understood that the process of moving through each work is the conversation that ensues from that presented question/idea, that it can also hold the answer? Well that's new to me.

Why? Because it means you can formulate the question so the answer occurs. Does that make ANY sense? Maybe it's a semantics thing. But it galvanized an idea I've been pondering for some time.

Without a formal lesson on Wednesday not sure I'll be posting but if something comes up, I'll be back.

 Okay. Off to finish up some work so I can get to playing with these concepts!

February 15, 2022

Art2Life Workshop

I've been craving a new direction for a while now and the advent of Nicholas Wilton's Free Workshop came along at just the right time. Winding down from creating work (that I started last Fall) for an April show, I noticed some abstract painting sneaking in. Something I'm really ready to explore.

Prior to the Monday, February 14th start, Nicholas offered up these tips to keep in mind as we moved through the workshop, all really good ideas and ones I've incorporated into my own art practice over the years. Sometimes we get so precious and hung up (read: stuck) on certain elements within our work, having a few Go Tos in our toolbox can be very helpful.


 5. Turn your work upside down for a new perspective. 

4. Start with THICK PAINT.

3. Embrace Risk.

2. Make Two. At Least.

1. Principles. Not Rules. 

 On Sunday, I noticed I was quite apprehensive, sorta anxious and a little bit excited about Monday's start. When talking classes I often feel this... trepidation? certainly nervousness... around fitting in, being less than, or, VERY often, not seeing any improvement or having any AHA moments. I tried to settle my brain monkeys, assuring them that the fate of the world, my world, did not rest on whether I got anything out of this workshop.

It helped.

Kind of. 

 Day 1 : Design

Watching the first video with a sinking heart, "Oh no! I've seen this before!" 

Aside: why do we assume the lightening will strike MOMENTS into something new? I blame movies!

I paused, took a breath, and thought, "Maybe. BUT you haven't seen it with your 2022 eyes, or heard with your 2022 ears. Let it happen."

So I did. And a few nuggets made their way into my notes. 

Differences = a feeling of Being Alive, what we crave 

There are differences of shape and size and position, colour and value, line and edges. Basic Design stuff. But there are also differences in feelings. How you approach your work... happy? sad? angry? And what mood you want to convey...calm? frenetic? These are the thing that will inform the overall basic design elements.

Curation is YOUR Contribution

Of course! How did I not hone down to this nugget before? Funny how you hear something said in a very specific way and everything galvanizes around it. I think I've always thought of it as "editing" which has always felt like 'correction' or 'wrong vs right'. Something I should inherently KNOW (and the corollary if you don't, you're stupid/dumb/an idiot/fill in with whatever self-recrimination you want). Curation on the other hand, feels like CHOICE and makes so much more sense to me. ALL marks are valid. But for THIS work? Maybe not *that* mark. Do you see the difference?

Has to stir YOU first.

Just last week I was listening to a podcast...something I haven't done in years and decided to start up again. only during busy work however. I find words, sometimes even music, disturbing whilst I am in the creation phase... and wrote this on my wall, "if you feel it, other people will feel it too'. So this felt like a validation for that thought. So often when I get moving into a piece, particularly assemblage, I will choose an element because it fits, is accessible, doesn't make me angry/throw up/irritate but not always does it make my heart sing. Time to change THAT!

Afternoon Live Session

Two viewing notes: 

  1. It makes me giggle whenever Nicholas draws a rectangle on his rectangular pad of paper to offer up an example. I can hear every art teacher I've ever had scream, "Use the WHOLE page. Right to the edges."
  2. I love Nicholas's energy, when he really gets going, "Do You Get It?" comes fast and furious and I want to shout back, "I DO! I DO!"
Energy of Conflict

This was written on the FB group by a fellow workshop participant and it HIT something deep. I'm not sure I would use the word "conflict" but I wholeheartedly get the sentiment. I have yet to fully explore this notion.

Question to Ask: How can I make something that's different?

I want a whole LIST of questions to ask myself whilst in the process of creating. This is a Good One. It pertains to the elements within a painting/piece not its entirety.

The larger the difference, the stronger the work

Again difference pertaining to the elements not the whole. This is really galvanized if you see a print of a pretty landscape, say. Lovely, for sure, but not energetic. Kind of a One and Done, viewing. The best works, even representational, have something that pulls your eye back into the work. Jaggedy edges vs smooth. Dark moody light vs ethereal bouncy light. Altered perspective to enhance a tree or barn or flower. In short, difference. 

Everything is a shapes/size as you move forward.

This one is super personal and a bit of an AHA moment. As I review my work, I often look at it as a whole rather than the specific elements. If the elements don't relate to each other, playing off their differences, the overall whole may feel balanced but not energized. It's one of those back pocket tips that can really help figure out what's NOT working. This might have been my most useful take away of the day.

January 10, 2022

Obligatory New Year Post

I usually write a Welcome to the New Year post filled with things I'd like to do and make, maybe some specially chosen words to guide me, a photo or two of white winter scenes or a cozy jack by the fire.

As we head into the second week of January 2022 I'm even less inclined to welcome this fresh, new year.

Currently I'm lying flat on my back as my SI joint gives me grief. Again.

Tom is in town picking up a solenoid or adaptor or thingamajig to try and fix our heating system which went on the fritz just before we head into our first major deep freeze. Not one plumber/electrician called him back. Assholes!

The 'Whole Family Together' holiday plans got trashed because of this latest round of The 'vid. And frankly don't see any light at the end of this pandemic tunnel.

 I'm just really done with it all.

Happy fucking 2022.

November 10, 2021

Between Artists: What About Media Breaks

In our ongoing series Between Artists: A conversation with Bridgette Guerzon Mills she asks: I am super curious how your media break went. Was it hard? Did it take some time to adjust? Do you feel like it's a necessity in today's world? 

Caveat: my summer break was more about "I'm Going Outside" than taking time away from media per se though that, in fact, was what transpired so I'll answer from that perspective.

When I had my epiphany of Maybe I'm NOT a 'Working Artist' I felt this strong need to GET OUT OF THE STUDIO. Yes. I just yelled that. Much the same way you do when watching one of those horror flicks where the girl (Why always a girl? Seriously, we are NOT stupid!) says, "Gee, I heard a noise in the studio." At midnight. When alone. In the dark. During a storm. And the electricity has just gone out. Then proceeds to descend into the inky blackness. Yes. That strong. Yes. That loud. The social media aspect didn't even enter my head. I just needed to be outside, playing in the dirt with the sun beating down on my body. So it wasn't hard at all. Occasionally, a thought flickered in the back of my head, "I should put up a photo on Instagram."

FWIW, I don't frequent FB anymore. All my posts are direct uploads from Insta though I DO use FB to scroll Marketplace and the various Buy and Sells and WeShare.

And I think that happened every couple of weeks so, really not any time at all to adjust.
Is it a necessity? Well. I guess that depends on who you are and what you do. My husband, for example, has the Giants of Nova Scotia account on Insta and FB and he is maybe the most consistent poster of anyone I know. Every weekday for all eternity. Sure he's automated a lot of the work but he doesn't take "breaks". That marketing background is a hard one to get away from, I guess. Consistency is such a difficult concept for someone, ie. ME, who has a hard time with schedules and sameness and structure. (Have you SEEN my artwork?!?) From the second someone says, "I love the [fill in blank] that you do."? Just about guarantees I'll stop making said thing. I'll probably get back to it at some point but my hair trigger response is, "Ohp. Don't fence me in." and veer off in a different direction. Marketers hate me!

But what's that got to do with the potential need for media breaks? For me? I do it all the time. I unfollow accounts all the time as the whim strikes. Nothing personal, y'know, I just want to see all gardening stuff now. or art. or decorating. or vanlife. There are points in my life where I scroll and scroll and scroll ad nauseum. And other times where I barely look at my devices. I don't own a working phone (I call it 'my little computer' cuz it only works off wifi), my computer can't go online cuz it won't update to the latest version of Windows - sad, sad poverty web - and my tablet is my offline games device. Very different from the early days of the World Wide Web when I was on the BLEEDING edge. Oh! how far the mighty fall. And you know what? I'm okay with all of it!

My advice for others:

If you cannot walk outside without having a device in your pocket? Maybe it's time for a break!
If not looking at a device for more than an hour causes you to break out in a cold sweat? Maybe it's time for a break!
If your need to answer that question NOW stops your life moving forward? Maybe it's time for a break!
If you have no other way of communicating with someone? Maybe it's time for a break!

I've heard the best way for the ├╝ber addicted to get away from their devices is to: 

  1. Turn them OFF.
  2. Put them in a bag.
  3. Put them inside another bag.
  4. Tape up that bag with duct tape. Use the whole roll. 
  5. Put THAT bag in a difficult spot to get to. Your attic. A storage box in the basement. Someone else's house!

Be prepared to go through the DTs. Seriously. It'll happen. You know it's crazy. You know you *shouldn't* be reacting like that. But you will. So get ready for it. Do 4-4-4-4 breathing (4 seconds inhale. 4 seconds hold. 4 seconds exhale. 4 seconds hold) OR run around your house like a sugar-high 4 year old. Yelling helps. Flailing arms helps. Clean your house (vacuuming is the unsung hero of mind-calming busy work), like all the nooks and crannies. Organize your closet or junkdrawer. Mow the lawn. Whatever calms your brain? DO IT. Know that it gets better. Know that nothing horrible will happen. Know you are Not. That. Important.

Maybe you'll like it SO much? I'll never see you again. And that's okay. I love you. Have a nice life. Enjoy the world!

October 27, 2021

The Process of a Series

I'm making progress on the pieces for the Spring show and I thought it may be of interest to show how I go about developing a series, one of my favourite things, actually.

There are generally three stages/criteria that virtually all my series have in common.
  1. Subject matter. Theme and visuals.
  2. Size. Yep. It matters!
  3. Look and Feel. Unifying palette and markmaking.

Subject Matter

Almost always there are words that kick things off.  For this current series, the show theme is 'Memory'. I wrote about this paragraph in my last post:
"He hated confronting those lost moments, being presented with some detail from his past and having to look on it like a stranger. It made his life feel like a made-up thing. A net full of holes."
Which got me thinking about the reliability of our memories, the lives we construct and alternate realities.

Right on the heels of a paragraph or phrase are the visuals, which often show up as if they had been connected all along or something. In this case, a bunch of photos found while looking for something completely unrelated. I'm super lucky to have my husband's family photos land in my lap, all very prolific photographers from the turn of the Twentieth Century forward.

The phrase 'like a made-up thing' kept repeating in my head as I thumbed through this grouping. Perhaps it was the decided lack of males or the, often, solitary poses or maybe my perceived feeling of trust and intimacy between (female) photographer and subject, all I know is these ladies sure got my attention. And my theme 'A Made Up Life: Lost Moments, Remembered, Reimagined' came into being.


Deciding on final sizing comes right after choosing my central images. The first stack was winnowed down to twelve cohesive photos, naturally falling into four groups of three. I knew I wanted to incorporate some assemblage pieces into the mix which are often smaller than my bigger works. The original photos were a teeny tiny 2×3 inches and wouldn't be practical to use, so it allowed me the freedom to dictate the finished dimensions. I also had a bunch of older paintings I wanted to scrape down and reuse which became the basis for a couple of the groupings. Sizing ranges from the smaller (8×8 inch) assemblage works to the larger (20×24 inch) repurposed paintings that were languishing around the studio. 

Look and Feel

The next step is to coordinate the colour palette across the entire series. Limiting to three or four colours really ties the series together, with an additional colour or two linking each subset. Subject matter can often dictate where I pull these from ... an ocean series, for example, could use anthraquinone blue, paynes gray (a perennial favourite) and teal. When reusing old substrates there are often little bits of colour left on that give me a jumpstart for colour palettes as was the case for choosing Prussian blue, Cobalt Blue and Transparent Yellow Iron Oxide.

Similarly, cohesive mark-making across a series unites the different parts into a satisfying whole. Frankly, I make many of the same marks on ALL of my pieces - three circles, three squares, three lines (yep. I like threes) dressmakers pattern wheels, roadmap-like lines (often white), stars, circles, dashed lines - but I try to be mindful when working within a series to tie each subset together.

I work on all pieces at a time though some are at different stages. I try to get all the substrates finished at once, so the messy parts of construction, sanding, plastering etc are done in one fell swoop. Subsets are worked on almost as a singular painting with each stage... background, imagery, top washes, additional transfers, mark-making, encaustic layers, final incised markings... being done simultaneously across all substrates. As a result, I often have 5 or 6 works in progress come to fruition at the same time. Which can be a little hectic (not to mention using every horizontal space) but is super satisfying as they reach that final hoorah!

If there's anything you'd like clarified, maybe things I glossed over or missed altogether, comment down below! If you found this interesting or helpful, please let me know that too.

Next week I'll talk about Why I like working in series.
All Rights Reserved . JJ Worden . emerge