Kooky Faces

I'm not sure if this is art. I guess you could say it's where art meets life. 
I make kooky faces with food for my 4-year old. There, I admit it. 

What started off as a way to encourage him to eat a wider variety of foods, has turned into a competition (for myself). Some days, they're pretty boring. But other days... I gain a REAL sense of accomplishment at what I can produce with bits of marshmallows or triangles of cheese. Now my son likes to make his own sometimes. 

Below are some pics of my favourites. And I've included a few of my 'mentors' for your viewing pleasure. If you like the idea of food to make portraits, this article offers a nice selection of mosaics and sculptures made with food. http://webecoist.momtastic.com/2008/12/15/food-artists-and-sculptors/

Playing the long game

I’m up to my eyeballs right now in writing proposals: funding, exhibitions, festivals, commissions and just general hunting for opportunities. I’m in the phase that I call “the substrate". It isn’t glamorous. There are no juicy photos to post. I’ve been a bit silent on social media, so some may assume that I’ve got nothing going on. But in truth, that’s when most of the real work is happening.  

Spending my days writing and researching can be tough for an artist like me who often just wants to be left alone in my studio so I can turn my brain off and make things with my hands. But ultimately, I love the final product of building a big project, both in scale and in outreach. So I need to put a lot of pieces in place first. There’s no instant gratification in building foundations but of course, we all know what happens if you build on shaky ground.

Whenever I get impatient, and feel like a big project will never take form (because I need more funding, or more partners, or more x, y, or z) I remind myself about Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the legendary installation artists (http://christojeanneclaude.net). Some of their projects took around 10 years to accomplish, from initial plan to final realization. I find that really inspiring. It gives me the strength to see beyond my immediate obstacles and to just be persistent. I also respect that they paid for all of their projects through the sales of preparatory drawings and earlier works. They did not accept sponsorship of any kind. 

I also get a whole whack of inspiration and motivation from Vik Muniz, specifically from his Portraits of Garbage series and the resulting documentary film “Wasteland”. Sure, he has a lot of resources and financial partners to back a big project. But i feel like what made that project successful was his belief in what he wanted to do. The heart of his idea was to reveal the humanity of the people of Jardim Gramacho (the world's largest dump, located on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro) and he didn’t listen to the negative thoughts or be deterred by the many obstacles he faced (see details on blog Recycle Nation). 

If you build it, they will come. 

So now I want to know what creative projects inspire you to play the long game? Let me know in the comments section. 

Feature in book "L'univers du sucre"

Many of my sugar murals are featured in this beautiful book about the history of sugar (and sugars association to just about everything). Authors Vittorio and Roswitha Di Martino have sourced rare and intriguing imagery, offering an investigation of this material that is as broad as it is eclectic. Written in French and published by Orphie it's a great reason to practice your French reading😉 Here are some sneak peeks inside the book.  It was difficult to choose only a few pages, since it comes in at 260 pages total! Chapter subjects include the slave trade, sugar in literature and music, sugar in art, sugar for alcohol, sugar in advertising all over the world. I'm giving away a FREE COPY of the book!  To win, just like my Facebook fan page and like the posting about the book. Enter HERE.

(en français) Beaucoup de mes peintures murales de sucre sont présentés dans ce beau livre sur l'histoire du sucre.  Les auteurs, Vittorio et Roswitha Di Martino, ont d'origine des images rare et intrigante, offrant une enquête de ce matériau qui est aussi large que il est éclectique. Écrit en français et publié par Orphie. Voici quelques pages de l'intérieur du livre. Il était difficile de choisir seulement quelques pages, car il arrive à 260 pages au total! Sujets incluent l'industrie de l'esclave, du sucre dans la littérature et la musique, l'art fait avec du sucre, le sucre pour l'alcool, le sucre dans la publicité partout dans le monde. Pour GAGNER un livre, "LIKE" ma page fan Facebook et "LIKE" le post sur le livre.
Entrer ICI


"Pipe Dreams" 


"Signature" (top) and "Wealth of Some and Ruin of Others" (bottom)


My murals "Cargo" (top) and "Stained" (bottom)

Vik Muniz sugar portraits

Vik Muniz sugar portraits

music about sugar

music about sugar


Films about sugar

We built it, and they came!

Last Saturday was the People, Pattern, Place photo shoot in Melville, SK. I’ve been here for all of August preparing for this community photo project.  The night before, I had people cancelling last minute, as well as people signing up last minute on the day of the shoot! So things evened out in the end. I had planned the design for 55 people, but ended up squeezing in 59 to allow everyone a spot. 

All in all, I couldn’t have asked for more on an outdoor photo shoot:

  • no rain
  • warm, but not too hot temperatures
  • minimal mosquitos (they had been TERRIBLE recently!)
  • Enough people showed up
  • I did not fall out of the bucket lift during the shoot. 

I’m especially happy about that last one :-)

Here are some photos of the prep, placement and the final product. There were a lot of jokes and bantering flying around, so I think it’s safe to say that everyone had fun. Special thanks to:

  • The Canada Council for the Arts for their support in developing this project.
  • my family for acting as my assistants! 
  • The Melville Heritage Museum board members for their involvement and use of their lawn. 
  • HaasBro Photography for operating the drone camera.
  • Jake’s Tree Cutting for the use and operation of the bucket truck. 
  • And of course, thanks to all the people who came out to be part of the photo! 

More “People, Pattern, Place” projects are already in the works for next year, so stay tuned! Maybe you can be in the next one…

Updates will be posted on Twitter (@ShelleyMiller) and my Facebook fan page Shelley Miller Studio. 

The Power of Face-to-Face

It's been 2 solid weeks of trying to recruit people for my photo shoot, People, Pattern, Place in Melville, Saskatchewan. It's my home town. I grew up here and half of my family still lives here. I thought it would be easy to get 80 people out for a community art project. But it's been tougher than I thought. It's the end of summer, so a lot of people are away for the weekend. There's the Fall Autumn Classic gold tournament, so half the town will be doing that instead! But little by little, with a lot of help from my family members, we've rounded up enough people for the project. 

it's been a good lesson for me: I've realized that making an event on Facebook isn't nearly  enough to host an event. You have to build it, but if you want them to come, you have to talk to people, face to face. My sister went door-to-door in her neighbourhood telling people about the project and my mom was down at the local Dairy Queen soliciting all her friends to come. This is, after all, a community-collaborative project so getting out into the community has proven to be the best way to get people involved. 

I'm looking forward to tomorrow! Former high school teachers will there, friends from elementary school, old neighbours. Like the quilt pattern the project will form, it will have a lot of threads of my past woven in. 

Residency at Museum

For the month of August I'm the resident artist at a Heritage Museum in my hometown of Melville, Saskatchewan. I'll be chipping away at some fabric compositions as well as planning a community collaborative project. I need about 80 people for the collaborative project. More details on that project to come.  

My studio is in the basement of the Museum, but it's a great space with large bright windows. Here are some of the sights around the museum. 

Melville Heritage Museum

Melville Heritage Museum

My studio

My studio

Different types of barbed wire. Who knew! 

Different types of barbed wire. Who knew! 

Need I say more!

Need I say more!

Perm anyone? 

Perm anyone? 

In case you want to try your hand at some surgery. 

In case you want to try your hand at some surgery. 

Mmmm... Embossed book spines. My favourite. 

Mmmm... Embossed book spines. My favourite. 

Louis Armstrong played in my hometown! Impressive. 

Louis Armstrong played in my hometown! Impressive. 

Twitter Contest Winner!

In honour of the grand opening of the new Glen Site MUHC I decided to run a twitter contest, giving away a print of the artwork design for Structura Habitata, my mural that resides at the entrance of the new Royal Victoria wing. I delivered the print yesterday to the winner: registered nurse, Michel Stachura, who works at the Montreal Children's Hospital. I'm always happy when my artwork has a good home! 

The hand paintings on the wall behind us were done by doctors, nurses and staff at the Children's as they say goodbye to the building they've spent so much time in, and prepare to make a fresh start in the new Children's Hospital at the Glen Site. 

I'll be running more contests in the future, so follow me on twitter (@ShelleyMiller) or on Facebook (Shelley Miller Studio) to get the details. 

Public Art 101: Contingency funds

There’s a lot to cover for how to create your budget for a Public Art project, but this post is specifically for Contingency.

What’s that, you ask? Some call it an emergency fund. Call it want, but it’s basically, money you put aside in your budget to cover those unexpected things that might (and usually do) come up. 10% of your total budget is a good amount to use. Definitely no less than 5%. 

But what unexpected things might come up?  Every project is different, but here are a few common ones that I’ve encountered:

  • For outdoor sculptures, sometimes the site isn’t ready when you are. You do everything right. You stick to your schedule, you make sure your fabricators stick to theirs. And then, when they say, “it’s ready for pickup”, the commissioning body tells you the site isn’t ready. Or maybe you planned for an early spring installation, and it’s a late year for ground thaw, so you have to wait another month. Why does this cost you extra?  Because, now what are you going to do with that sculpture sitting at your fabricators? You may have to pay for storage. For a month, maybe 6 months, maybe a year if an entire building’s construction timeless is behind (which often happens in Quebec). Ask your fabricator this question before you plan your budget. And set some money aside in case this happens. If it’s a long wait and it’s the fault of the commissioning body, maybe (*maybe”) you can get them to cover this. But don’t count on it. 
  • Similar to the last item, if you need to get your work out of an atelier or fabricators, you need to pay for transportation. So if a site isn’t ready on time and you have to store work at another location, you’ll need to pay for an extra move. The larger the work, the more expensive this can be. Very large works need a crane or boom truck. 
  • Substrate issues. I’ll be doing a whole post on this issue… And it’s often as issue. Substrate basically means “what lies below the surface”…. lurking!  The unknown. (ok, I’ll stop it with the melodrama). For wall-based artworks, it refers to the structural support behind the wall you see (behind that Gypsum wall, or concrete wall) and for sculptures it means what is below the ground that could cause you problems (pipes, bedrock). Depending on what the substrate is, effects your cost. You need to ask a lot of questions in the early phases of a project so you know what you’re dealing with. But even if you do, sometimes there are still surprises. For walls, the biggest concern is if the wall can support the weight of your artwork. Sometimes the walls chosen for artwork were not designed for artwork. They are just flimsy aluminum and Gyprock. In that case, you may need to build a structural wall. Contingency can help off-set those surprises. 

Do you have questions about budgeting? Have anything to add? Leave me a comment below or tweet me @ShelleyMiller 

Public Art 101: Where Oh Where to Apply?

    Over the past few weeks I've shared all of my tips and tricks with you, and you should be just about ready to start looking for places to use your newfound skills! At the end I’ll share the link again for the Quebec Percent-for-Art or “politique d’intégration des arts à l’architecture” application guide (annual deadline to apply for the pre-selected roster  was April 15th, but if you missed it you can still start your application for next year) but there are also many other places to submit applications or proposals.

     In other provinces, cities and municipalities the system is usually different and they often just have open calls for specific projects, but you should never be afraid to apply!  Some of the acronyms you’ll see are RFP (Request for Proposal), RFQ (Request for Qualifications) or EOI (Expression of Interest). As a professional artist who has been working in the public domain for the past 15 years, I can tell you that it is extremely gratifying to install your work anywhere where people can see it! My biggest commissions have been in Montreal but I have also completed public art projects in Saskatchewan, Australia and Brazil. 

As always, leave your comments and questions below and I’ll be happy to answer. I hope this list helps you find your own exciting public art opportunity, and who knows, maybe we’ll be on the next short-list together!

Helpful Links for Calls for Entry

Quebec Percent-for-Art

Call for Entries (listings all over the US, and some are open to International)

Artists in Canada

The Art Guide

Akimbo Listings (Toronto and area usually listed here)

The Vancouver Public Art website usually gives good listings

Signing up for newsletters (City of Ottawa, City of Calgary, City of Montreal, etc.)