Interview: Carlin Belof

carlinphotoYou may have seen crochet artist Carlin Belof’s Unravelled Crochet creations on Twitter or Facebook—particularly the dolls: horror, sci-fi, adventure and superhero characters recreated with whimsical accuracy; the sharp attention to detail especially remarkable when you remember that these are created through crochet.

Practicing the craft for 20+ years, Belof starting making and selling hats in the 90s to supplement her income—and Unravelled’s offerings grew from there. She still crochets hats (including everyday hats, specialty hats and helmet covers), and expanded into pillows, clothing and accessories—and of course there’s the dolls; you can check all of these out on her eStore page. She’s also game for custom creations. I asked her about the evolution from hats to dolls; and what it’s like creating the beloved movie and TV characters in crochet.

Thanks for taking the time to chat about Unravelled: Crocheted Items by Carlin and the evolution of your crocheted creations! Not a problem, I’m glad to do it. And thank you for this opportunity!

You started making and selling hats back in the 90s—and then later branched out into clothing, accessories and pillows. How did you come to expand your creative repertoire? It all happened organically. I originally started crocheting in my teen years. I was ridiculously creative back then and, out of curiosity, learned a lot of different artistic mediums. Crocheting was one of them but it didn’t capture my attention because at the time, more than anything else, I was into music, writing and drawing, so the crocheting was put aside.

Then at one point in the late 90s I picked up a set of crochet hooks to make myself a blanket, and learned that yarn could be quite expensive. So when I wanted to make myself a hat, I decided to pull apart an old sweater and use it for yarn. That’s when the crocheting bug “hit.” I started pulling apart more sweaters—hence the name “Unravelled”—and made more hats, and sold them whenever money was tight. I did that for a number of years.

As time went on, I’d think to myself something like, ‘I used to have a poncho when I was a kid, I’d like to have one again,’ then would proceed to make one. Or I’d think, ‘I need a new pillow, I wonder if I can make one.’ That’s basically how most of my creations were inspired: out of desire or necessity. And I always wind up with something that’s one of a kind.

And tell us about how your creations evolved to include dolls. What inspires you to make particular dolls? About eight years ago I started working at an outbound call centre, and the manager was cool with me crocheting to keep my hands busy. I listened to a LOT of phones ringing at that job, so I was able to do a lot of crocheting.

Anyway, shortly after I started working there I was stumped for creative crochet ideas, so I asked my friends what I should make next and specifically asked them for challenging ideas because, when it comes to being creative, I always like a good challenge. One of my friends, Harrison, suggested a guitar. So I made a guitar pillow. It was the size of a ukulele, but it still had all of the elements of a guitar: strings, pegs and everything. That was the first sculptural item I made.

I think the second one was a life-size facehugger from the movie Alien, which is probably my favourite movie. Again, I made it as a challenge to myself, to see if I could do it. Amusingly, many of my co-workers were freaked out by it, but I was totally proud of it because it looked almost real.

After that, I just started making stuffed items that were inspired by some of my favourite movies and TV shows, usually in the sci-fi, fantasy, horror or cult genres because they’re my favourites. Plus those characters are easier to crochet than ones in other genres, or real people, because they wear iconic, recognizable costumes. I also keep a list of characters and things I’d like to crochet, and when inspiration is lacking, I ask friends for suggestions. They always come through with great ideas.

It was when I started making “dolls” that people started noticing my work, commissioning them from me, and suggesting that I sell them at craft shows, which I started doing just a few years ago. I say “dolls” with quotes because while, yes, technically they are dolls, they’re more for adults and teens who are collectors, as opposed to cute plushies that are meant for kids to play with. The people who buy them tend to love the movie or TV show that they were inspired from just as much as I do.

You also do custom made-to-order work. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve been asked to make so far? The most challenging thing? The most interesting thing … hmm … probably the blanket I made for my friend Ellie. She wanted something that looked like it belonged in a gypsy caravan, so I made it using squares with starburst motifs in them and in bright jewel tones with a black border. It wound up being absolutely beautiful, and she loves it which is the most important thing.

And the most challenging things would probably be the life-size Gremlin and Gizmo dolls. Both of their faces were tough to figure out how to make because I don’t use patterns; instead, I figure it out as I go along. They were ordered by a gal in Australia, so it makes me happy to know that my creations have travelled all over the world, even when I haven’t.

What’s been your favourite project to date? Least favourite? Usually after I finish my latest project it becomes my favourite, then whatever is made afterward becomes the favourite. But, if I had to pick, I’d have to say the doll I made of Chef Charles Michel (who is a world-renowned culinary artist). The doll is just so adorable; I don’t think I can part with him.

And the least favourite is the fourth tam I made for an acquaintance. The first one was alright, then he asked me to make another, and then another, and then another. I don’t like making the same things over and over and over again, so by the time I got to the fourth one I was just frustrated with it.

Other than your website’s eStore page, is there anywhere else people find your stuff? Any upcoming shows or events? There’s nowhere else online, just the eStore or directly through me (by email). Because it takes a while to build up stock, I only occasionally apply to craft shows or bazaars. There isn’t anything upcoming yet, but when I do get accepted into a show I post it on my website.

Anything else you want to shout out? Just a big THANK YOU to everyone who has supported me over the years: the strangers at the craft shows and bazaars, the customers who’ve ordered over the internet, the social media supporters, my amazing dad and step-mom, and my wonderful friends, especially Lizzie and Philip (aka my biggest fans) and you, Cate, for doing this.

Now, for the fun part of the interview. I’d like to finish up with James Lipton’s Pivot questionnaire: What’s your favourite word? Wow … tough question. I don’t really have one. There are just so many options to choose from in the English language, in all languages, that it’s hard to pick just one. I mean, I’m intrigued by words that have complex yet specific meanings, like “melancholy” or “schadenfreude,” but I also like simple words that evoke emotional responses, like “home” or “desire,” and some words just feel good in the mouth and roll off the tongue nicely, like “masticate” or “unscrupulous.” Yeah, I can’t choose just one.

What’s your least favourite word? Another tough one. Ummmm … well, lately the word “bespoke” has been bugging me. It’s just harsh sounding, and there are lots of other options that can be used, such as unique, one of a kind, or custom made. It also sounds more than a bit pretentious, and I hate pretense. Oh … and the word “like” when it’s used as filler. As a friend once said, “like, you know, life isn’t like a fucking simile.”

What turns you on? Hah! Well, if I’m being honest … purely physically speaking, tall, slender men with long, slender fingers and long, healthy hair, and beautiful smiles and elegant styles. Guys who are comfortable with their femininity and confident enough with themselves to break the mold and be unique. Humility, compassion, introspection, and being able to admit faults and mistakes are also all highly attractive qualities too.

What turns you off? Beards, arrogance, ignorance, moustaches, excessive drinking, idiotic behaviour, goatees, pretense, mutton chops, stubbornness, unwillingness to learn and grow, stubble, hypermasculinity, facial hair of any kind.

What sound or noise do you love? Any of Franz Liszt’s piano pieces. I completely understand why women swooned when he played; his music is simply beautiful. Most of the music from the Romantic era speaks to me, but Liszt’s does most of all.

What sound or noise do you hate? Anything grating on the nerves, like an alarm clock that someone hasn’t turned off, or teeth on a fork, or an overly nasal singer.

What is your favourite curse word? Lately the phrase “Jesus fuck” has been popping out of my mouth. There is something very satisfying about it.

What profession other than your own would you like to pursue? Someday I want to open my own café. I already know exactly what I want to do; I just don’t have the resources to make it happen.

What profession would you not like to do? Anything in either banking or the corporate sector.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? I don’t know. Um … “All of your musical idols are here. They’re having a jam session and would love it if you’d sing with them.”

Thanks, Carlin! No, thank YOU, Cate! It was fun!

Check out the crochet magic on Carlin’s Unravelled Crochet website; and give her a follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Here are some snaps I took of Carlin’s amazingly detailed, whimsical dolls at the Addams Family Christmas Bazaar this past December:

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A dark, mind-bending existential trip in the surreal, intense Paperhead comic

Cover art for Paperhead by Jonathan Kociuba

 

Multi-talented illustrator Jonathan Kociuba is primarily known for his collaborations with the Urban Ninja Squadron of street artists, his “Space Pirate” character, and album cover and poster work. He’s also the lead singer for indie rock band Summer and Youth; and he’s recently released a new comic, Paperhead. I met Kociuba a few years ago while I was out reviewing Bug at Super Wonder Gallery (he designed their poster); and I saw him again this past Fall at a Killer B Cinema event at The Imperial Pub. He sent me a copy of Paperhead, along with the teaser book and as a copy of All of This (co-created with writer Suzanne Alyssa Andrew, released in May 2018) in an envelope he illustrated with a zombie.

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Zombie envelope illustration by Jonathan Kociuba

In the surreal, meta Paperhead, artist Steve Barker works through his break-up demons as he creates a rom-comic that highlights the positive moments of his relationship with Lily—and inadvertently opens a portal between the real world and the world of his comic book creations in the process. The lines between his real life and the comics blur as the worlds collide and merge, forcing him to confront his characters, and face some brutally honest truths. Searching for answers and closure, and diving deep into the panels of his own work, will he ever resurface?

A dark, mind-bending existential trip—featuring sharply rendered illustrations, dark humour and introspection—Paperhead is an eerily dramatic and intense ride with a Twilight Zone edge.

Check out and purchase Kociuba’s comics and artwork, and connect with him via his website.

Art & literature come out to play together at the Leon Rooke & John Metcalf Salon Exhibition

I had the great pleasure of attending the Leon Rooke and John Metcalf Salon Exhibition last night, hosted by Fran Hill Gallery at Rooke’s residence at 246 Brunswick Ave., Toronto—also the new contact space for the gallery since it moved from its St. Clair W./Christie neighbourhood Show Room. The event featured Rooke’s latest paintings and sculptures, and the Biblioasis launch of two new books by Metcalf: The Canadian Short Story and Finding Again the World—Selected Stories.

Ushered up to event in the spacious, open and bright second floor space of the home—with its striking sky lights, interesting nooks and gorgeous fireplace—several of us (including me) remarked that we wanted to take up residence there ourselves. And it was here that we wandered about, viewing Rooke’s art over wine and cheese, and  treated to a reading by Metcalf.

Comprised of small to medium-sized canvasses, and curious, detailed and often delightful sculptures and shadow boxes, much of Rooke’s (who is also an author) work in this exhibit has a light, playful, whimsical quality—with some of the pieces emerging with a richer, deeper palette and darker, mysterious and even erotic undertones. Be forewarned: Not all of the pieces on display are necessarily for sale (exhibit pieces are noted with a number, accompanied by a printed guide with titles and pricing) and at least one piece (the Fish sculpture, featured at the top of this post) sold last night.

Following a brief introduction by Biblioasis Publisher Dan Wells, Metcalf—who also worked for years as a highly respected editor, most notably on Best Canadian Stories, curating the anthology and shepherding writers—read us excerpts from The Canadian Short Story and The Museum at the End of the World. Part historical overview, part critical guide, part love letter to the form, The Canadian Short Story is anything but a dry, academic tome, despite its hefty size. Sharply insightful, and full of humour and interesting examples and anecdotes about authors; hearing the excerpt, it struck me as being the “inside baseball” for the short story lover. And the audiophile journey Metcalf took us on with the piece from The Museum at the End of the World (a series of linked stories and novellas) gave us sharply drawn characters; visceral and present details that pique the senses; and a curiosity shop environment that enveloped the intimate, almost confessional nature of the characters’ conversation—about the musicians, birthplace and evolution of the blues. I was so taken by this work of autobiographically inspired fiction that I left with a signed copy.

All in all, it was a lovely and inspirational evening of striking art, literature and people.

The Leon Rooke exhibit continues throughout the fall; give Fran Hill a shout at 416 363-1333 or franhillartgallery@gmail.com to book an appointment. The residence at 246 Brunswick Ave. is tucked in behind 244 Brunswick Ave., accessed by the walkway to the right.

You can visit the Biblioasis website or your favourite book shop to find works by John Metcalf.

Here are some snaps I took last night.

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Playfully whimsical, profoundly poignant & sharply candid ruminations in Dawna J. Wightman’s honey be

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Dawna J. Wightman. Photo by Vince Lupo.

 

Montreal-born Dawna J. Wightman is an award-winning Toronto-based actor, playwright and writer. Toronto audiences will recognize Wightman from her solo show Life as a Pomegranate, as well as Yellow Birds (Alumnae Theatre’s FireWorks Festival, 2015) and A Mickey Full of Mouse (Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 2016 and Toronto Fringe, 2017). She’s currently working on adapting her unpublished dark fantasy novel A Yarn of Bone & Paper, based on her ebook: Faeries Real & Imagined: How to Create Magical Adventures for Very Young Children, into a feature film. She’s also working with director Theresa Kowall-Shipp on her short Kid Gloves, set to shoot November 2018.

As part of the funding process for Kid Gloves, Wightman self-published and sold honey be, “a collection of sweet words and some that sting,” including hand-painted covers and “surprises” stuffed inside. The first 50-volume print run sold out in about a week; and a second run will be available this month, featuring cover art design by Wightman’s daughter Sabine Spare.

Much like Wightman’s theatre work, the stories, poems and snippets in honey be range from playfully whimsical to profoundly poignant to sharply candid—often all in the same story and sometimes autobiographical in nature. While there are no titles, each piece bears an italicized post-script at the end; in some cases, these take on a conversational and even self-deprecating tone, making for a personal, intimate read.

The themes of family, motherhood and friendship come up in several pieces. There’s the story about Mrs. Kay, written from the perspective of a precocious, neglected eight-year-old who finds a home with fellow misfit schoolmate Sandra Kay and her quirky family; and the goofy four-legged family member Bella in just a dog. Reminders that family can sometimes be found in unexpected places—and to never judge a book by its cover.

There’s heart-wrenching nostalgia with an ode to her son in little boy; and remembrances of wearing an itchy baby blue Phentex dress and being her mother’s go-fer at the bingo hall, in pretty little head. And the heartache and fumbling for what to say to a friend living with cancer tumble out in the visceral when we found out you had cancer and in the outpouring of loving, supportive words in the piece that follows.

Ruminations on body image and aging come up as well, from the erotic in late summer, to the sharply candid and calling bullshit on the ridiculous expectations placed on women’s bodies—professionally and personally—in tits and ass and #chubbyprettywoman, and the #MeToo shock of new neighbour.

Quirky, bittersweet, child-like grown-up, all of the stories in honey be are tinged with humour and poignancy, and the everyday acknowledgement of life’s remarkable moments. And one gets the sense that, beyond coming from a place of truth telling—there’s a deep longing to share these words. There’s a line in the movie Shadowlands, from a C.S. Lewis quote: “We read to know we are not alone”—one could easily also say “We write to let others know they are not alone.”

Copies of honey be will be available for $20.00 via emailing wightrabiit@gmail.com; website coming soon. Wightman will be performing a reading from the book at Stratford’s SpringWorks Festival on October 11.

 

SummerWorks: Art, madness, longing & inspiration in the visceral, cerebral, deeply moving The Red Horse is Leaving

Moleman Productions presents a multimedia, multidisciplinary work in progress with its SummerWorks production of The Red Horse is Leaving; running for three performances in the Toronto Media Arts Centre Main Gallery. Written and co-directed by Erika Batdorf, with excerpts from artist Thaya Whitten’s journals and performance talks, and co-directed and choreographed by Kate Digby, the piece takes us on a thoughtful, moving journey into the playful, pensive and tormented mind of Batdorf’s performance artist/painter mother. I caught the closing performance, along with a sold out house, last night.

Part lecture, part performance art, part fly-on-the-wall experience, the audience is invited into Whitten’s (Erika Batdorf) studio as she faces off with a blank white sheet of Masonite; struggling to manifest her vision, her concept, in colours and brush strokes on a two-dimensional surface. All the while, a Gargoyle (Zoe Sweet) watches, climbing cat-like over tables and chairs—and even curling itself around Thaya—largely unseen but felt; its glowing, lit spine flashing and changing colour along with her breath and pulse.

Cerebral and visceral at the same time, The Red Horse is Leaving also addresses the issues of meaning, ethics, outreach and economics as they relate to art; and the changing landscape of art and artists, and how their work is perceived and received. Back in the 60s, performance art was the big new thing; controversial, revolutionary and exciting. Not so much anymore. Referencing “the red horse”—the subject of Thaya’s work in progress—we get the impression that it represents her muse, her inspiration, her passion. And it’s eluding her.

Beautiful performances from Sweet and Batdorf in this profoundly moving, thought-provoking two-hander. Batdorf’s Thaya is an artist with a curious, sharp and tormented mind; and a playful, tortured soul. Longing for inspiration and connection with her muse and her work, as well as her audience, Thaya struggles to reach out—to the white space before her and the world around her. Sweet is both menacing and adorable as the Gargoyle; moving with precision and grace under and over furniture, and coiling around the artist. Both bird-like and cat-like, it nudges and prods Thaya, offering brushes and even sharing a snack.

Inside Thaya’s secret heart, like her, we realize that longing can be a dangerous and unfulfilling thing—but it’s part of our human nature to strive and struggle to find meaning in our work, our world and ourselves.

With shouts to the design team for their work in bringing this multimedia vision to life: Mark-David Hosale (digital technology and sound, costumes), Sylvia Defend and Joyce Padua (costumes), J. Rigzin Tute (original music composition) and Alan Macy (biosensors).

This was the final SummerWorks performance of The Red Horse is Leaving; look out for the Toronto premier in the Rendezvous with Madness festival Oct 13 – 21.

Department of corrections: The original post had the cast credits reversed; this has been corrected.

Toronto Fringe: Art, longing & acceptance in the poetic, heart-wrenching, gender-bending The Bird Killer

Clockwise, from bottom left: Emerjade Simms, Tymika Tafari, Subhash Santosh, Mo Zeighami, Evan Mackenzie & Mike Ricci. Photo by Patrick J. Horan.

 

LET ME IN presents Justine Christensen’s poetic, heart-wrenching modern-day, gender-bending adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull with its Toronto Fringe production of The Bird Killer, directed by Patrick J. Horan and running in the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace.

A group of artist friends grapple with the day-to-day challenges of artistic expression, and personal and professional fulfillment—all while maintaining their relationships and support network. Masha (Emerjade Simms) is a keen observer of her friends’ goings-on, and acts as a host/narrator when she’s not directly involved in a moment. Wearing black to mourn the state of her life, her sardonic sense of humour masks a broken heart: her unrequited love of the driven, tormented playwright Kostya (Mo Zeighami). Kostya is with the nervous emerging actor Nina (Even Mackenzie), who stars in her new contemporary theatre piece. Singer/songwriter Medvedenko (Mike Ricci, who also supplies original music for the production) is Kostya’s loyal, hard-working stage manager; and taken with Masha.

Kostya’s wise-cracking stand-up comic brother Arkadina (Subhash Santosh) brings his girlfriend, renowned playwright Trigorin (Tymika Tafari), to an invitation-only presentation of Kostya’s new work; setting off debates of artistry vs. celebrity, and changing the group dynamic. He’s unwittingly set in motion a significant ripple within the group—and things will never be the same.

Beautiful, moving work from the ensemble with a piece that cuts close to home for all artists. Each character longs for love and professional artistic fulfillment, but finds it difficult to achieve satisfaction. Does acknowledgement and accolades make one artist’s work more important than another’s? How does an artist navigate authenticity vs. marketability? And, most importantly, how does an artist accept him/herself?

The Bird Killer continues in the Tarragon Mainspace, with two more performances: tonight (July 13) at 9:15 pm and July 15 at 3:30 pm.

Want to check if the show you want to see is sold out? The Toronto Fringe folks have set up a page for sold-out shows, updated daily.

 

Toronto Fringe: Art, friendship & astroturf in the quirky, edgy, hilarious The Grass is Greenest at the Houston Astrodome

Adrian Rebucas, Lauren MacKinlay, Anne van Leeuwen, Richard Young & Carson Pinch. Photo by Megan Terris.

 

High Park Productions takes us to The Freedom Factory gallery (22 Dovercourt Road, south of Queen St. East) for a fly-on-the-wall view of the aftermath of an explosive art show opening. The Toronto Fringe production of Michael Ross Albert’s The Grass is Greenest at the Houston Astrodome, directed by Robert Motum, is a quirky, edgy, hilarious look at the indie art world and a group of artist friends as they struggle with finding fulfillment in the personal lives and careers.

Photographer Amy (Lauren MacKinlay) manages an art gallery that’s soon shutting down, so she invites her art school friends to hang their work in one final show—one that quickly closes when radical feminist painter pal Caroline (Anne van Leeuwen) goes all rock star in a hotel room on the place. Cleaning up the debris of art work, wine glasses and broken dreams, Amy is assisted by gallery intern/sculptor Pablo (Carson Pinch) and conceptual artist friend Marshall (Adrian Rebucas) while Caroline fumes and smokes outside before rejoining her friends to explain herself and face the music. And just when you thought things couldn’t get more complicated, Caroline’s fiancé John (Richard Young) arrives and the gang discovers that he already knows Marshall.

Remarkable work from the ensemble, who keeps it real and present amidst all the insanity, razor sharp hilarity and satire. Heartfelt, insightful discussions about the art world, the nature of art and creativity, and the artist’s place within it all—and the existential crisis every artist must confront regarding their work, the precarity of their financial status, and their struggle for personal meaning and fulfillment.

The production features dramatic, evocative works by local female artists Shannon Gernon, Christine Miller, Krista Sobocan and Zabrina Szymanski.

The Grass is Greenest at the Houston Astrodome continues every night at 8 p.m. at The Freedom Factory until July 15. It’s sold out for the remainder of the run, but you can always drop by and take your chances on scooping up a spot from a no-show.

Want to check if the show you want to see is sold out? The Toronto Fringe folks have set up a page for sold-out shows, updated daily.