Archive mensuelle de juin 2008

Writing Room

My writing room is also my art room. At nine by ten feet it’s too small to use the term studio. I say that, not with regret, simply as a fact. The truth is that I like writing in restrained quarters. Some of my best writing was done in tiny hotel rooms. In my short story, “Sightseeing,” I describe the room where I wrote the first draft of that story:

“The Cambie International Hostel is located in downtown Vancouver at the corner of Seymour and Pender, above Malone’s Bar and Grill. I ask for a quiet room; I notice they sell earplugs. Jabs of happy-hour laughter follow me five fights up. A blend of Javex and fumigation attack my nostrils. Room 203. About the size of a phone booth. Orange walls offset turquoise bunk beds. The noise level from the street is phenomenal.”

The narrator comes back at night:

“In room 203 the air is stagnant. I hear the humming and clicking of trolley antennas skidding across cables. In spite of my cringe at the first sight of this room, I like it here now. I abandon myself to my laptop. This is a perfect place to write. It is so small there is nowhere to go except onto the page. Words flow like the beer from the pitchers at Malone’s downstairs.”


In that hole of a room I was able to put myself into the skin of a young drug addict. I doubt I would have come up with the same material had I been staying at a Best Western for example. What happens to me in that type of hotel room is that I end up transfixed to the television, making up for the fact that I never, and I mean never, watch it at home.

A few years ago, in a state of fury, I transformed our guestroom into my art slash writing space. It was right after a trip to Mexico. My head was dancing with images of Mayan ruins and I wanted to create! I emptied the room, painted it white, bought a gigantic piece of compressed wood with melamine finish, mounted it onto folding metal legs, and pushed it against the wall. This is where I make art. I write on a small pine table, perpetually covered with a Provençale tablecloth. When my father first saw it he asked, “What do you do here, serve meals?” That hasn’t happened yet but the olive pattern is food for thought and I like the warmth of the cotton beneath my forearms as I type.


The walls are covered with a series of collages from my last solo show. I also have a corner with mementoes from the trip to Mexico, perhaps in homage to the energy that pushed me into creating a room of my own.


There is a wonderful web article in the Guardian’s book section, entitled “Writers’ Rooms.” Adam Philips says, “The room is the view.” My window overlooks the two spruce trees I planted when my husband and I moved into our home thirteen years ago. Now these trees loom over the house and are a constant testament to the passing of time. Perhaps these conifers prod me on, reminding me not to waste precious seconds, as they grow yet another inch before my procrastinating eyes.


I had fun looking at the writers’ rooms, 67 in all, and choosing the ones I would most want to work in. The locomotive shape of Margaret Forster’s room embodies that quasi-claustrophobic feeling that suits me so well.

I can’t imagine writing on Michael Rosen’s desk. It overlooks the emptiness of the stairwell. I do like what he wrote about the too-small shoes, however, at the end of his room description.

Judith Kerr’s room would be good for me; there are even drawers where I could store my artwork. My favorite room though belongs to Seamus Heany, an attic with a low skylight from which he watches the shipping action in the Dublin port.


Barbara Trapido’s room includes a bed, where she can “bed down” two nights a week, and rise at 3 or 4 am, a concept that doesn’t particularly appeal to me. I did a stint of waking up at 5:00 every morning. My body floated out of bed, but my head stayed on the pillow, which was fine for writing my “morning pages” but nothing beyond that.

Siri Hustvedt says, “A room to write isn’t like any other room because most of the time the person in it doesn’t see it.” Perhaps there is something lacking in my writing technique because I can see my room very well, thank you.

I laughed when I read that Martin Amis thinks he should get the Booker Prize for retyping, but I laughed even harder when I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s room description. He used to write in the Rose Reading Room of the 42nd Street Branch of the New York Public Library. Now he writes at the Grand Army Plaza Branch, in Brooklyn. Describing the differences in what is considered acceptable behavior in each library, Foer writes:

“In Brooklyn, people regularly carry on cellphone conversations at their desks, regularly sing along to the music they are listening to through their earphones (why wear earphones at all?), regularly have conversations (which are regularly about illicit things)…”

I not only wrote the final draft of my first blog entry, “Etch A Sketch of Childhood,” at the Magog Municipal Library, I figured out how to put it online. When I clicked the “Publish” button and saw my illustrated article on the web I was ecstatic, felt like jumping, screaming, giving the librarian a high-five, but I couldn’t, after all I was in Magog, not Brooklyn. So, with a lilt in my stride, I walked to my itty-bitty B & B room, squeezed in between the bed and dresser, sat at the miniscule table tucked under the sloping ceiling, and went to my favorite spot in the room, onto the page.

Talleen Hacikyan

Arctic Art Adventure

On September 23, 2003, I boarded an Air Inuit Dash-8 commuter Turboprop, headed for Inukjuak , Nunavik . This twin-engine plane, with a capacity for 37 passengers, or 29 or 21 when adapted for cargo, took me through turbulent skies to an unforgettable 17-day teaching adventure. I was hired by the Makavik Corporation to give a woodcut printing class at the Annual Nunavik Artistic Workshops.

White building on the right: printmaking studio

The printmaking studio
My first challenge was to set up a printmaking studio in a small, multi-purpose building that had last been used for a rummage sale.

My journal entry for the following day reads:

“Practical problems in the studio have been solved. All the florescent lights work; there is heat; the sink has been unclogged; the leak in the roof has been patched; the plywood covering the window has been screwed into the frame. Once the room hit 15 degrees it felt tropical.”


I taught eight students, ranging in age from 16 to 65.
They flew in from Salluit, Quaqtaq, Kangirsuk, and Kangiqsualujjuak. Two of them lived in Inukjuak. One student was a professional carver, and the others had little artistic experience.

Angelina and Elisapee


Although the students did not know each other, there was a natural camaraderie between them. The Inuit community in the Canadian Arctic feels like an extended family. I was comfortable with the group, basking in their chatter– a pleasant blend of Inuktitut and English. I got used to the rhythm of their frequent cigarette breaks, their easy laughter, and their ups and downs.

Tragic stories are never far away up north. Two of my students had to deal with news of a suicide back home, committed by a teenager. Students comforted each other. A couple of the older women were particularly strong and supportive. I stuck to the task at hand. Art was not an immediate cure; it worked more like a natural remedy, taking its own sweet time to heal the soul.

Inukjuak Coop Hotel
From my room at the Inukjuak Coop hotel, I could see a piece of Hudson’s Bay, rocky tundra and a tapestry of coral-colored lichen. I had an Igloo SpaceMate mini fridge and a drawer full of dry food that I brought up from Montreal, including dehydrated soy that found its way into numerous dishes that I cooked in the community kitchen.

There were other transient guests such as construction supervisors and a marine biologist who went on walrus hunting expeditions with the Inuit and came back with anecdotes such as the one about how some Inuit youth repaired a VCR by defrosting it over a Coleman stove.

The hotel was comfortable and I slept well, except for the nights when the wind howled so loud I had no other choice but to dress in layers and go out to watch the northern lights, described in my journal as, “Glow-in-the-dark veils being wrung and twisted by an invisible hand in the sky.”

When I wasn’t teaching I spent time either walking or driving around in a pick-up.
I often strolled on the beech, a stretch of sand crisscrossed with 4-wheeler tracks.

On the land

One Sunday, the community of Inukjuak offered the teachers an excursion. We navigated in two motorized canoes down the Innuksuak River to an enchanting bay. The open space of the rolling tundra took my breath away. So did the wind that bit through my Nepalese hat. Abraham, an elder, along with Johnny and his little brother, Andrew, pitched a big, white tent while the rest of us explored. Barthana, the carving teacher from Igloolik, spotted a caribou carcass. He determined that it had been killed the previous day and that we could eat it. When we sat in the tent, sipping tea and eating pieces of the boiled meat that we dipped into salt that had been poured onto a plastic bag I said to Abraham, “mamuktu,” delicious.

Siasi Smiler Irquimia

Two prints: Lizzie Puttayuk

Left: Sarah Kaitak
Right: Andrew Nulukie

Student Exhibition
One of the highlights of the workshops was the student show, held in the gym of the community centre. I was impressed with the prints. What gave me even greater pleasure was to see the joy beaming from my students. The whole community came to this exhibition, newborns to elders. Finally I could see the faces of Inukjuak, which often resembled a ghost town during my walks. My students greeted the public like seasoned artists, shaking hands and explaining techniques. I had done my job.

Much artwork sold that night, to locals and to white folk. After I returned home I corresponded with several students. I even met three of them in Montreal at various times. After I left, Siasi sold so many prints that she was able to buy a new fridge and stove! Her next project was to set up a printmaking studio in Inukjuak.

Final Journal Entry

“It is my last night, unless fate has other plans. I walked on the beech tonight. Wind, precipitation trying to become snow, and a tent lit up like a jack-o-lantern against the blue-jean sky. Inukjuak, I take with me a piece of your spirit. I carry you snugly, the way mothers tote their babies in their fur-trimmed amauti hoods– a place to dream, a place to grow.”

Talleen Hacikyan

Deciphering Mother Zeppelin

Today I brought home Mother Zeppelin, my print that was selected for the Voir Grand Biennial, a national large format print contest, organized by Atelier Circulaire. The exhibition was held at the Maison de la culture Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extention, in Montreal, from May 8 to June 8, 2008. Sixteen finalists, hailing from Vancouver to Halifax, were selected. The jury consisted of Mathieu Beauséjour (artist and coordinator of Clark), Geneviève Goyer-Ouimette (responsible for the Collection de prêt d’oeuvres d’art, Musée national de beaux-arts du Québec), and Irene Whittome (artist).

During a press conference artists had a chance to present their work. The audience consisted of Radio Canada television and radio, Télé-Québec, a couple of local newspapers and a handful of artists. This was a rare opportunity to discover the stories behind the prints. As artist François Vincent said to me at the end of this event, “Artists have something to say.”

Mother Zeppelin, Collagraphy, 166 x 102 cm, 2007

Mother Zeppelin is a reflection on human identity in relation to the experience of home. It is a visual play of words where color, texture, composition and figurative imagery interact with writing.

In a house, words are arranged alphabetically from top to bottom, in two vertical columns. Read in this order they become an inventory of the house.

The words may also be read across, two at a time along horizontal lines, creating whimsical combinations that suggest images and emotions connected to the theme of home. Interpretation is of coarse subjective and may suggest more than one meaning. For example, GHOST TOAST might make one think of a piece of toast that has been left at the kitchen table long after family members have headed off to their day’s activities. It may also conjure the image of food that has been set at the place of a deceased loved one. LAUGHTER YO-YO suggests the pleasure of play. It also alludes to the variable emotional climate of a home. The words, regardless of how they are read and interpreted, create mental images and sensations that influence the way we understand this print.

The title of this piece, Mother Zeppelin, corresponds to the last two words in the print that can be read across, and to the female figure in the attic of the house. She floats like a zeppelin, perhaps escaping or simply levitating above the babble of her home:

    ATTIC…………………. NOVELS
    KISS …………………….X-RAY

    Talleen Hacikyan

Traveling Teacher

Every year, from January through June, I give art workshops in schools across Quebec. I feel like a missionary, traveling from village to village, spreading the good word about printmaking. From Thedford Mines to Asbestos to Lac-Megantic, I’ve been there. Sometimes I want to plaster a Quebec map with red dots, representing all the towns where I’ve taught. It would have to be a big map and it would end up looking tacky but it would be something interesting to do on a rainy day.

Today and tomorrow I’m teaching at École Dominque-Savio, in Saint-Catherine-de-Hatley, eight kilometers east of Magog, in the Eastern Townships. This is the third school I’m visiting in the area since April.

I always stay at La Maison Verte, in Magog, on Merry Street, across from the church and a hop away from rue Principale. This charming house, originally owned by a doctor, belongs to Monsieur and Madame Tremblay. Their bed and breakfast should really be called a breakfast and bed, because the petit déjeuner here is a serious three-course affair and if truth be told, it’s what keeps me coming back. The crêpes are delectable, as much for the eye as for the palette. Madame T sprinkles powdered sugar on the rim of the plate and presses a butterfly mold into it. The printmaker in me can’t help but being impressed by this detail.

This morning, after savoring my crêpes, I drive through the rolling hills, along the 108, to Saint-Catherine. The school is located across a barn and overlooks the valley.

I teach three classes today. After I demonstrate how to print a linocut with a spoon, the students are eager to engrave into their Styrofoam plates and print them onto paper. Grades five and six work on the theme of Inuit art. Grade three makes prints of animals.

Prints inspired by Inuit art

Whenever I present the animal theme I ask the students if anyone has a pet. Since my family doesn’t even own a goldfish, I’m always surprised to see ninety percent of the children raise their hands. I ask them what animal they own. In Montreal this query elicits the usual cat-dog-hamster-guinea-pig answer. It’s a whole other ball game here with answers ranging from frogs to horses. One girl proudly announced that she has two roosters, five laying hens, and twenty-two chicks.

A boy says he wants to draw a wolf but doesn’t know how. I tell him to take it step by step and to start with the body. On his desk I trace the oblong shape of a wolf’s body with my finger. The boy gets to work. He periodically states that he cannot draw the other parts of the animal’s body– the legs, the tail, the head… Each time I inject a dose of confidence with a few choice words or with my finger-tracing method. When he announces, “I messed up the head,” I suggest that he add another line to enlarge the profile. It is only when he sees his printed image that he admits, with a beaming smile, that his work is good.

Wolf print

After the class leaves he stays behind to print his second copy. As I wipe the tables I detect self-confidence and joy in his movements. He says something remarkable to me,
“My teacher Guylaine is good, isn’t she?” I agree that he has a very good teacher and suggest that he tell her that.

I like to think that his positive experience with his wolf print made him connect to that good thought. Undoubtedly she too has been encouraging him throughout the year. Teaching is such a human enterprise. It’s not just the transmission of knowledge. Ultimately, and at its best, it is helping people discover themselves.

Teaching is a wonderful way to connect to people, whether the students are children or adults. When I teach on the road it also gives me the opportunity to discover new places. After my day at Dominique-Savio, I return to Magog and roam in the village.

I discover the Olivier soapery, an ecomuseum, on rue Principale. Guylaine (seems to be a popular name here) gives me a tour. The soaps’ main ingredients are olive oil, bee’s wax, and coconut butter. I buy honey soap, shaped like a honeycomb with a bee on it. According to the label it is a “soul soothing sweet tension reliever,” just what I need after a day of teaching.


Guylaine is happy to pose for this photo, especially when I ask her I if I can post it on my blog. She wants you to know that she’s much younger than she looks in the photo!

I go to Boutique Eq’Estrie, my favorite store in Magog, not that I’ve been in any of the others apart from Rossy, where I like to go because it reminds me of loitering in Woolworths when I was a tween, back when the word tween did not exist. At Eq’Estrie you can buy everything you need for your horse. My students probably shop here for pet supplies.


They have a wall full of halters, displayed according to horse size, weanling to draft. A fluorescent- rainbow halter catches my eye but I think I have to buy the horse first, you know, so that I can purchase the correct sized halter.

On a bulletin board I look at ads for horses for sale. Prices started at 600$ for a twenty-month-old pony, which is a lot cheaper than the 3000$ used saddle that’s advertised. But I think I’m too big to ride a pony. There’s a five-year-old gelding available for 2700$ but I think I need to buy the farm first.

For the moment a farm is out of my price range so I settle for a pair of ultra funky cowgirl shoes. They look like something Jane Birkin would wear.

I browse through the horse beauty products. I discover Mane ‘n Tail detangler , Cowboy Magic Super Bodyshine, and Rio Vista Color Enhancing Shampoo with chestnut extract. I’m tempted to buy a sponge attached to a purple plastic handle — “Wash, groom and massage in one easy step.” Who needs a horse? I can use this on my own body, with my soul soothing honey soap from Olivier. Instead I buy a round paintbrush used to apply oil on hooves. Should be fun to use for art projects.

On my way out I spot crocheted ear protectors, with gold trim! I feel like a woman who gawks at knitted baby booties and yearns for a baby. Sometimes I get this vision of living on a farm, painting in my studio in the woods, writing in the attic of a quaint farmhouse, and riding my horse over the open glades between chapters in progress. For now the western shoes will have to do. Now all I need are the Jane Birkin legs.


I walk with my own legs through the night to La Maison Verte. On the way I spot the Saloon, down on Bullard Street. Looks like a Lucky Luke hangout. Would be an appropriate place to try out my new shoes. I can practically hear Shanaya Twain calling me. But this woman needs to get back to the green house on Merry Street to get a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow I have a hundred more students to convert.

Talleen Hacikyan

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