A brush-making tutorial aimed at empowering locked-down visual artists has joined a broader continuum of arts teachings emphasizing material ingenuity and self-reliance, says artist and ECU associate professor Mimi Gellman.
DIY Brush Making, begun over the summer with help from ECU graduate student Yaaz Pillay, provides video and PDF tutorials for using materials of just about any kind to create brushes with unique mark-making capabilities — a vital lesson as many artists face barriers to purchasing pricey brushes from retail outlets.
“Having to rely on art supply stores doesn’t provide the opportunity to extend our abilities to problem solve, be creative and more self-reliant,” Mimi says.
“The thing that I get so excited about is how nimble we can be in the face of obstacles. At this moment, when everything seems to be closing down and we have less of the access we’re accustomed to, in what ways might we have more of a different kind of access? What possibilities are opened up?”
With materials gathered from around the campus grounds and elsewhere in Vancouver — as well as by gracious donation from the Aboriginal Gathering Place — Mimi and Yaaz created a collection of more than 50 brushes. Some include materials as rare as bear and wolf fur, while others make use of ubiquitous plants such as grass, pinecones, and stinging nettle. Halved corks, whittled branches, fishing line and corn silk also make appearances in the wildly innovative set of tools.
Mimi emphasizes that materials needn’t be chosen for their perceived technical value; rather, any material an artist has on hand could work. The best way to use a particular grass, fur or other material in brush-making is something an artist will learn as they work with it.
“It’s in the process that you learn to understand materials. The materials themselves will tell you how to use them,” Mimi says, pointing to a range of recent online courses and mentorship initiatives at ECU as examples of likeminded programming.
Courses from artists and faculty members Russna Kaur, Sara-Jeanne Bourget and Mark Johnsen all encouraged closer attention to immediate surroundings, and open-mindedness to the use of non-traditional, found and household materials in art-making as ways of developing personal narrative in a practice, Mimi notes. The Fibreshed Field School, led by Emily Smith under the banner of the Shumka Centre for Creative Entrepreneurship, likewise emphasizes social and ecological ethics as a backbone for sustainable and independent material practice, she adds.
“I think all of these activities are beginning to establish, for us at Emily Carr, an ecology of place,” Mimi says.
“These experiences that we’re having as a community are telling us to slow down and look more closely … What I see is an opportunity to develop our interdependence and self-reliance, and to encourage learning in a much deeper, more meaningful way.”
You can watch the full DIY Brush-Making video now, online.