Everyone gets in a rut

Bull elk visiting the Leighton Artists' Colony at The Banff Centre. Photo: Janice Tanton.

Bull elk visiting the Leighton Artists’ Colony at The Banff Centre. Photo: Janice Tanton.

Every­one gets in a rut. Hav­ing the oppor­tu­nity to take a vaca­tion, or a phys­i­cal break from your reg­u­lar work cycle enables you to have a new per­spec­tive on things. Yes, there is a sense of com­fort to hav­ing ‘every­thing in it’s place’ in your own home stu­dio, but there is some­thing to be said for shak­ing it up, expand­ing your hori­zons and get­ting into a new space to cre­ate and imag­ine the pos­si­bil­i­ties pre­vi­ously unthought of.

For me, I lit­er­ally “get out­side” and paint when I can, tak­ing the oppor­tu­nity to explore the Rocky Moun­tains and Kananaskis Coun­try — lit­er­ally in my front and back yard. That’s an “ele­gant solu­tion” to a one-day res­i­dency.  A great way to observe and appre­ci­ate nature and cre­ate some­thing new.

For a more in-depth exam­i­na­tion of the process or project, there is noth­ing like leav­ing my comfy home stu­dio and dri­ving a half an hour down the road to the Leighton Artists’ Colony at The Banff Cen­tre. This January/February marked the fourth res­i­dency period I’ve been for­tu­nate enough to enjoy in this cadil­lac of artist’s res­i­den­cies. I feel very lucky.

Nes­tled in the woods, is my favourite stu­dio — the Gerin-Lajoie. Com­plete with a ket­tle, toaster, small fridge and microwave, it’s my favourite place to imag­ine the “new” in my prac­tice. It’s a quiet place, no dis­trac­tions — but with all the ameni­ties that you need for your own crea­ture com­fort a short walk away. Many artists choose to actu­ally reside at The Banff Cen­tre dur­ing their res­i­dency period, and for that, The Banff Cen­tre offers won­der­ful accom­mo­da­tion, a pool and exer­cise facil­ity, sev­eral places to dine and a library that you could get lost in for the rest of your life. To me — it’s heaven on earth, all located on the side of Buf­falo Moun­tain, a sacred place to many First Nations — a place for vision quests for over 14,000 years. Fit­ting for artists to con­gre­gate and exchange on this nat­ural place for cre­ation in con­tem­po­rary times. I travel back and forth from my home, as it’s impor­tant to me to be with my fam­ily every day.

I’ve been plan­ning for this res­i­dency since May of last year, after receiv­ing the news that I’d be one of three artists in res­i­dence for Gwaii Haanas National Park. Know­ing full well that I’d need some incu­ba­tion time over the sum­mer, and fol­low it with some inten­sive cre­ation time, my plans were to work on some very large scale paint­ings at the “Leightons”. News just days before Christ­mas that I was diag­nosed with breast can­cer changed that, and for sev­eral weeks, I felt as though my entire life was askew. Every­one was sad…and so was I. Hmmm…no res­i­dency, what did the future look like? Chemother­apy? Radi­a­tion? Surgery?  Paint­ing might be a thing of the past for me for quite some time, and that was the sec­ond black­est thought I could imag­ine. I won’t enter­tain the first.

It took a cou­ple of weeks to work through these issues emo­tion­ally, until finally I was able to meet with my sur­geon and get some good ideas about what I might or might not be able to expect of life in the com­ing months (and years). The morn­ing fol­low­ing the surgeon’s meet­ing, after decid­ing that a mod­i­fied rad­i­cal mas­tec­tomy to remove my right breast and lymph nodes was the way to go, I also real­ized that I needn’t put my life on hold because of this. Every­thing didn’t have to stop — but things had to change. It was a com­plete “AHA” moment. Although I had found out that I had a life-threatening dis­ease and that the road to health may be long and dif­fi­cult, I came to the total real­iza­tion that can­cer didn’t affect ME…my soul, my art or my out­look on life and that I was the only one who could adversely affect that, if I con­tin­ued to dwell on the “what if’s” instead of deal­ing with the “Wow…what I’ve already gots”, so to speak.

So, with some incred­i­ble encour­age­ment from my dear friend Jen Houck, Pro­gram Coör­di­na­tor at the Leighton Art Colony, I real­ized that I should con­tinue with my work and give myself the goal of return­ing to my res­i­dency two weeks after surgery. The two weeks were up on Mon­day, and I didn’t quite make it. Drains are still in — there’s some weird nerve pain that’s hold­ing me back, but that’s okay — I need to rest and take care of my spirit and my body. I’ll get there soon!

Fam­ily and Friends To The Rescue!

In the mean­time, before the surgery, my fam­ily and friends pulled out all the stops to get my stu­dio set up and help me to get as much large-scale work on the go as I pos­si­bly could. My youngest brother David who lives in Cal­gary drove in and ges­soed over forty feet of can­vas in a day! Three coats PLUS sand­ing! (We won’t talk about poor Dave get­ting locked out of the stu­dio, though.) Kevin and the kids moved a moun­tain of prepped linens and paint into the stu­dio, and unselfishly granted me the time and space to draw and get as much work done as I could before my surgery.

Friends and col­leagues came to visit and lend sup­port. I’ll never EVER for­get your kind­ness, and you know who you are…Tab, Jen, Wanda, Sarah, Lisa, Donna et al.

With the type of surgery I have, there is a dan­ger of not hav­ing full mobil­ity in one’s arm, shoul­der or mus­cles for some time. This was the biggest fear I had going into my surgery — that I would not be able to paint the way that I wanted. Nerves are del­i­cate things, and tak­ing care of how every­thing inter­con­nects requires the genius and care of a great sur­geon. Lucky for me, I have one, and he was totally on board with me…figuring out an “ele­gant solu­tion” to try his best not only to save my life, but to ensure I could paint. I’m doing pretty well right now, almost three weeks post-surgery. Life isn’t with­out it’s ups and downs, and I’m not back in the stu­dio paint­ing quite yet.…but I know I will be. Thank you, Dr. Austen, Edith, Dr. Quin­lan, Pam, Can­more Home Care, Cathie, Julie, Sarah, and all the staff at the Breast Can­cer Clinic and Rock­yview Hos­pi­tal. You have rocked my world.

Know­ing that I have a sacred space to go to has given me a goal and a direc­tion and helped me remem­ber not only who I am, but what I can accom­plish with my fam­ily and friends when we put our minds and hearts into it.

This post originally appeared on Janice Tanton’s peersonal blog and has been shared with permission from the artist.

Janice Tanton:  Artist. Mom x 3. Full Time Human Being. Blogr. Rabblerouser. Horseaholic. I love life, a good bowl of pasta & creating works that speak to our shared humanity.


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